ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Victory for Identity Politics, Not Hindutva in Assam

During the recently concluded Assam assembly elections, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's role was exaggerated to strengthen the impression that the Assamese have finally succumbed to the ideology of Hindu nationalism. This is not borne out either by the background of most of the successful Bharatiya Janata Party candidates or the overall voting pattern in the state.

Defying all demographic equations, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance has swept the polls in Assam, winning 86 of the 126 seats in the state assembly. The Congress, which ruled the state for three terms, has been reduced to just 24 seats. This was certainly not the result of a Modi wave. Rather, it was the result of the BJP’s success in garnering the support of regional forces like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and the Rabha, Tiwa and other plains tribal organisations.

There was no Hindutva agenda as such in these elections and the emphasis was clearly on preserving the identity and culture of the indigenous people of the state in the face of swift demographic change triggered by "infiltration" from neighbouring Bangladesh. Alarm bells had started ringing amongst the indigenous groups the moment the religious break-up of the 2011 Census was released by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government after it had been kept under wraps by the previous dispensation. Once the figures were released, it became evident that the rise in the Muslim population in the state, which now stands at 34.2%, was the highest in the country, surpassing even a state like Jammu and Kashmir. Different ethnic organisations voiced their apprehensions at the possibility of being totally marginalised in the state’s politics and political parties like the AGP, which had lost much of its credibility but still had a substantial base in rural areas, made the issue of threat to identity a major one. Reading the writing on the wall, the BJP went out of its way to build up an electoral alliance with regional forces. This proved to be a master stroke, especially as the Congress developed cold feet in arriving at an understanding with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) for fear of antagonising its Hindu vote base.

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