The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to project Sarbananda Sonowal, Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports (Independent charge), as the party’s face for the Assembly elections in Assam, expected to be held around April 2016. In its bid to dislodge the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government, the BJP, which had won seven out of Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats, is also exploring options to forge an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which had ruled the state earlier. Gogoi has been in power for three consecutive terms.
A senior BJP source said that the party will “go with the local leadership”. “Just last month, the party appointed Sonowal as the state BJP president, replacing Sidhartha Bhattacharya. He has also been made the Election Campaign Committee chief. The party will contest the Assembly election under his leadership,” he said. Sources said the party has taken lessons from the BJP’s electoral defeat in Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections this year and is, therefore, treading very cautiously. “In Delhi, Kiran Bedi was declared the chief ministerial candidate, that too at the last stage, which did not go down well within the cadre, while in Bihar, no chief ministerial candidate was announced. Therefore, every effort is being made to take the state unit on board,” sources added.
BJP’s Assam in-charge Mahendra Singh said his party was fully prepared for the Assembly elections. “We have our organisational structure in place at the booth level. We had a successful membership drive in which 28 lakh members, as against the target of 24 lakh, were enrolled in the party. There is a strong desire for change in Assam and BJP is fully prepared to become a viable alternative here,” he said.
Talking about alliance, Singh said no decision has been taken on the issue, but did not rule out the possibility of a tie-up with the AGP and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). “We have been alliance partners in the past. So there is a ‘natural affinity’ with them. However, it will be premature to comment on whether there would be any alliance with them,” he said. The AGP was once a part of the NDA. The two parties had contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections together. But in 2011, the AGP pulled out from the NDA and contested the Assembly elections on its own.
On the other hand, there are also efforts to forge an anti-BJP alliance, comprising Congress, AGP and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) of Badruddin Ajmal. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is taking a keen interest in stitching together this alliance.
The BJP had got a total of 36.5% votes during the last Lok Sabha polls, while the Congress, which had won three seats, had got 29.6% votes. The AIUDF came third with three seats and 14.8% votes. The AGP, which was in power in the state twice, had failed to open its account and its vote-share had also dipped from 8.8% to 3.8%. Nitish Kumar has reportedly had a meeting with AGP chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The Nitish “formula” is that the combined vote share of the Congress, the AIUDF and the AGP would put the BJP in trouble and thus stop its chances of coming to power. Sources, however, indicated that Congress is averse to any alliance with the AIUDF as it may consolidate Hindu votes in favour of BJP and, thus, the formula may boomerang.
In Assembly with a strength of 126, the AGP has 10 members. It has one member in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP, on the other hand, had won six seats in the last Assembly elections. However, 12 MLAs (10 from Congress and two from AGP) have joined the party, taking the tally to 18. In the last Assembly elections, Congress won 78 seats, while AIUDF 18 and BPF 12.
The BJP has poached several AGP leaders into its fold. In fact, Sonowal was earlier with the AGP till January 2011. Recently, top Congress leader Hemanta Biswa Sarma too joined the BJP.