Panchayat elections: Acid test for BJP?

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“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

 

Finally, the elections to the panchayats will be conducted in Assam in two phases on December 5 and 9. The elections will be the first acid test of the BJP-led government of its popularity ever since it came to the power in May, 2016 in Assam. Even as Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo People’s Front (BPF) are alliance partners of the BJP, they chose to contest the panchayat polls alone, primarily because the Sonowal government has been facing a huge opposition from the majority of indigenous communities due to government’s move for passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Parliament. The AGP is vocal against the bill where as the BPF is has adopted a compromising attitude. If the Bill is passed, it would grant Indian citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis residing in Assam, thus violating clause 6 of the Assam Accord signed in 1985 to end the six-year-long anti-foreigners agitation.

With daggers drawn, tension is simmering between members of the Assamese community primarily residing in the Brahmaputra Valley and the Bengalis dominant in the Barak Valley and residing in a few pockets of the Brahmaputra Valley. Ever since the Bill got momentum, especially with the Joint Parliamentary Committee members visiting the state early this year, the state witnessed deep linguistic polarisation, reminiscent of the anti-foreigners’ movement days. With no counter-narrative from the ruling dispensation, the jatiyatabadis (aka nationalists) have been quick to exploit the fluid situation to their advantage, if not running riot.

All these have fuelled a sense of insecurity among a large section of the Bengalis residing in the state, especially those in the Brahmaputra Valley. In this backdrop, the two-phase panchayat elections are being seen as an acid test for the BJP, coming as it is in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Also, the current situation couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for the dominant ruling coalition partners given the fact that it is already under fire from many quarters over the ongoing update of NRC. Anyway, the citizenship is not only the issue, majority of the people of the state are not satisfied with the style of functioning of Sonowal government. The saffron party’s habit of ‘promising everything to everybody’ might see its fall. The demand for separate Bodoland statehood is yet to be resolved, implementation of Article 244(a) of the constitution is also a distant dream for Karbis and Dimasas. The saffron party also failed to keep its promise for granting ST status to six communities of the state. As a result the people have begun to realise something is amiss. Their (BJP’s) promises also contradict each other. It is believed that the fast-changing popular perception of BJP will help Congress in a big way in the panchayat election in the state.

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