Populism, Hindutva, ethnic outreach: BJP's three-pronged strategy pays rich dividends in Assam
By indulging in competitive populism, the BJP-led government had targeted all communities with various welfare schemes.
Published: 03rd May 2021 01:05 AM | Last Updated: 03rd May 2021 11:31 AM | A+A A-
GUWAHATI: A three-pronged strategy by the BJP helped it sweep the Assam polls and retain power.
The BJP managed to counter the Congress-led grand alliance of the Opposition through developmentalism coupled with populist schemes; core Hindutva with continuous focus on the threat to the land, language and culture of the indigenous populace from the illegal immigrants; and by aligning with ethnic political outfits to marginalize the discontent of mainstream Assamese.
By indulging in competitive populism, the BJP-led government had targeted all communities, particularly tea workers, with various welfare schemes.
The government had also come up with schemes for the weaker sex, including unmarried women and widows. Unmarried women from poor families get one-time financial assistance of Rs 40,000 during their wedding. Widows belonging to BPL category get a lump sum pension of Rs 300 per month.
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Under the Arunodoi Scheme launched last year, financial assistance of Rs 830 per month is given to around 17 lakh families where women, being the primary caretakers of the family, are the beneficiaries. In its election manifesto, the BJP had promised to increase the assistance to Rs 3,000 and the number of beneficiaries to 30 lakh. The BJP had also made admission in government institutions free from the primary level to post-graduation.
Another measure of the party’s competitive populism was gifting scooties to girl students who excel in their Class 12 board exams. This election, the party had announced a gift of bullet bikes to boys but did not mention the eligibility criteria.
“Without looking at the overall fundamentals of the economy, the BJP had created huge beneficiary schemes for all segments of the society. During electioneering, it also constantly talked about the threat to Assamese civilisation from illegal immigrants after the Congress had aligned with the minority-based All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF),” political scientist Akhil Ranjan Dutta of Gauhati University said.
The AIUDF, seen by many in Assam as the protector of illegal immigrants, is a component of the 10-party and Congress-led grand alliance of the Opposition.
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Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was at the forefront of the campaign against the AIUDF. He tried to scare people into believing that voting for the Congress would mean inviting AIUDF chief and MP Maulana Badruddin Ajmal to Dispur, the state’s seat of power.
In the lead-up to the polls, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had made an appeal to the voters to defeat the Mughals, alluding to the AIUDF. So, the campaign had an impact on the Assamese people, particularly in Upper Assam where a strong sentiment of Assamese sub-nationalism works.
The Assamese are inherently linked to “namghars” which are Vaishnavite prayer centres. Almost every village has a namghar. As part of its core Hindutva, the BJP-led government had offered Rs 2.5 lakh each to 8,000 namghars across the state for a makeover and evicted alleged illegal immigrants from the Kaziranga National Park and some “satras” that are institutional centers associated with Vaishnavism.
The BJP could reach every ethnic community both in the hills and the plains. The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) was a challenge but the BJP found a competent ally in the United People’s Party Liberal.
The saffron party retained ethnic political outfits such as Rabha Joutha Mancha and Tiwa Oikko Mancha. The Gana Shakti, floated a few years ago by tribal Mishing leaders, got handicapped after the BJP had managed to bring its top two leaders to its fold.
Six communities, such as Tai-Ahom, Moran, Motok, Chutia, Tea Tribe and Koch-Rajbangshi, have for long been demanding Scheduled Tribe status. The BJP had managed to quell the movement to some extent with its decision to create territorial councils for the Koch-Rajbongshi, Moran and Motok communities. The tea workers were kept in good humour with cash bonanza and a number of welfares schemes.
Over the past five years, the BJP focused on infrastructure development. After capturing power, it first finished the unfinished projects of the previous Congress government. Thereafter, it started building roads, including highways, statewide. It is also building three bridges over the Brahmaputra.
Dutta observes that parties retaining power has become a post-economic liberalization phenomenon.
“If you look at post-economic liberalization from 2002, any government coming to power in any state is having at least two terms in power. It is due to competitive populism. It happened to the Tarun Gogoi government, Nitish Kumar government, Naveen Patnaik government, Narendra Modi government, AIADMK government,” Dutta said.