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Victory for Change.

Byline: Sijal Fawad

Elections at the state-level in India have gained significance at par with national level polling for the local parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Having established sound dominance in northern and central India, the BJP intends to not only expand its political base beyond the regions it conventionally dominates, but also to garner more victories at the state assemblies to have a more significant presence at the upper house and be able to engineer the desired reforms through the country's legislature.

Unfortunately for the BJP, victory was not on the cards as far as Delhi and Bihar were concerned due to non-localized election campaigns and strong anti-Muslim rhetoric. Clearly, the party learnt from its mistakes in these elections, working carefully to steer the results in its favour in the elections held in Assam. Undoubtedly, this was no ordinary win: the BJP took away the Congress party's 15-year long hold in the state after Tarun Gogoi and his Congress party came to power in 2001.

Many factors contributed towards the BJP's victory in Assam. To begin with, the party planned its election campaign well, refraining from using Narendra Modi as the main leader. Local prominent faces were used in its campaigns, such as those of Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma - prominent local leaders. This helped make the campaign feel closer to home for the locals who sensed a more thoughtful stance of the BJP in the elections this time.

Other than that, forging alliances cleverly also worked in the party's favour. Partnering with the local Assamese parties, such as the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a Muslim communal party, helped bring more votes from ethnic groups in the state. The Congress, meanwhile, had shied from aligning with the AIUDF because of the risk of its ideology reflecting a preference for religious polarization.

At the same time, BJP's rhetoric on illegal immigrants, carefully designed to show its support for the Assamese Muslims at the same time, also helped its cause. For starters, the party clarified that it was particularly and singularly against illegal immigrants and not all immigrants were welcome in the state. This largely pacified the Hindus in Assam, who had always felt marginalized by the immigrants as far as jobs and government welfare was concerned.

At the same time, the carefully drafted stance also placated the Muslims in Assam , the state with the second highest percentage of Muslims among all the other Indian states. This was because the party clearly stated that it had no problems with Muslim immigrants, being only against those who crossed borders to enter Assam illegally. Needless to say, the alliance with the AIUDF also played a key role in garnering votes from this religious group.

However, the most prominent factor that helped BJP's case was the Congress's performance in Assam over the past fifteen years. The latter had undoubtedly brought stability from turmoil after coming to power. Yet, the local population rightfully was expecting the ruling party to bring about some positive economic changes to the state as well - not very tall expectations considering the Congress's hold over Assam for a decade and a half. After all, in the last ten years, growth in per capita income in Assam had paled in comparison to the rest of India, GDP growth rate for the state had been slower than other states in the past year or two, and the state of health and sanitation was nothing worth writing home about.

At the same time, Congress leadership was losing the luster it had once enjoyed with the locals of Assam. Party leaders at the local and national level were largely criticized for their poor management skills, making many doubt their ability to maneuver the state's economy into the greener horizon.

That the locals were losing faith in the party they had trusted for long, and the overwhelming victory of the BJP in the latest elections reflects one dominant factor - the populace's readiness for change. In fact, the high voter turnout of nearly eighty percent shows that the people wanted to come out to play their part towards engineering this change in a truly democratic election. They wanted to pass on Assam's reins to a new leadership, in hope and promise of a better future. Considering that women and people younger than forty made an impressive proportion of the voters who stepped out on the day of the election, the general sentiment of having a positive change in the management of Assam's economy and general state of affairs seems to be a probable explanation.

For Indian politics at large, the implications affect the balance of political power. Most prominently, the Congress, which is now left in power in only five small states and one big state, is undertaking a southward journey in politics. This puts forth a likely staggered ascent of Rahul Gandhi, who had lately been leading the party's affairs, as Congress president.

For the newly elected BJP government, however, the real test begins now. Balancing the need for political stability and peace in the state, with falling true to the rhetoric of economic development will be a challenge that the BJP doesn't just need to face, but also work on to be able to bring positive changes. As the high voter turnout, a fate-turning victory after fifteen years of Congress's stronghold, and most importantly, the general sentiment of wanting a change witnessed amongst the people of Assam shows that now state-level elections will also depend largely on the ruling party's performance.

However, on a positive note for BJP, the victory presents an opportunity to the party to shine through positive performance, and pave their way gradually towards victory in the coming Lok Sabha elections of 2019.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jun 30, 2016
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