In Assam polls identity and citizenship are in front, development themes fall behind

After the lockdown, BJP looked well-placed to return to power in Assam. The state government there was seen to have done a decent job of administering welfare schemes, building new roads and even tackling the Covid pandemic. However, in the run-up to the assembly polls, the old identity issues are centrestage as exemplified by BJP attacking Congress for its tie-up with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF in the state. There are two main reasons for this. First, Congress has made opposition to the CAA its main campaign plank. In fact, as part of its five guarantees, it has vowed to bring a law that nullifies CAA if elected to power.

This has prompted BJP to rethrow the illegal infiltration charge at Congress. Interestingly, BJP has even pitched for redoing the NRC exercise if large-scale anomalies are found on re-verification. BJP’s strategy still rests on retaining its hold over Ahoms, caste Hindu Assamese and Bengali Hindus who voted for it in large numbers in both the 2016 assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. In that sense, the CAA-NRC combo was meant to take advantage of the Assamese identity issue and simultaneously win over Bengali Hindus.

However, fissures started emerging in the strategy as CAA and NRC were viewed as contradictory in their aims, exemplified by the rift between BJP ally AGP and All Assam Students’ Union. With Congress highlighting these contradictions, sticking to the Assam Accord to determine citizenship in Assam and stitching together a grand alliance of eight parties – including former BJP ally Bodoland People’s Front – BJP too has been forced to play the nativist card. All of this is making the assembly election feel like one from the 1950s. With unresolved citizenship and identity issues, the quest for economic growth and jobs remains neglected in Assam.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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