The overall map of Assam politics today looks remarkably different from what it was in the late 1980s. Even in this era, the politics of the state is marked by factors based on multiple social identities.
However, what catches everyone's attention is the steady decline of the Congress party's dominion in Assam, bringing a striking change in the political fortunes of an influential regional party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), and the meteoric rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power as an alternative to the once-dominating Congress or other regional parties of the state.
The previous notion -- with the rise of a regional party in Assam, the national parties have lost their relevance -- had long seemed to have been proven wrong in the state.
Besides, what appears to be more startling is that political issues that were central to the region of Assam even in the pre-partition days such as land, immigration, identity, and language continue to occupy a major chunk of political discourse and scenario of the state even today.
To date, the politics of the state primarily revolves around issues such as unchecked illegal migration across the border.
The Congress party has been a dominant force in Assam for much of the three-and-half decades since 1980.
Even in the post-Congress era, the state of Assam still could be described as one of the "Congress States".
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, however, the dominion of the Congress party crumbled and the party lost its grip.
The political shift that began to occur in the state had four major trends.
1. The dominance of the Congress party was challenged in a resounding manner.
2. AGP, the leading regional party was witnessing stagnation of sorts.
3. The All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) had went on to draw much of the dividends in a polarised contest.
4. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was rapidly gaining momentum.
All these developments showed a glimpse of the multiple facets of the political competition that emerged in the state gradually, yet steadily.
From the period of 1985 to 2019, the state has seen the transition of power from AGP to Congress and then to BJP -- this has led to political mobilization and intense contests based on ethnic and religious considerations.
The popular Assam Movement of 1979-1985 managed to strike a chord with the regional aspirations of the Assamese people and energised the formation of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a regional party, as an alternative to the Congress party in the state in 1985.
For nearly two decades, the AGP held potential sway over the electorate.
But the AGP could not capitalise for a long time on the advantage it secured by "uniting the people".
Although the AGP emerged as an alternative to the Indian National Congress, the political stagnation of the party under then Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta marked the revival of the Congress in the state in the late 1990s.
The party then managed to get the majority in all four Lok Sabha elections (1998-2009) and also in the assembly elections for three consecutive terms under the leadership of late former CM Tarun Gogoi.
The Congress party continued its dominant reign since then till 2014 which marked the withering of Congress dominance and the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam.
In the first five legislative elections in Assam, the trends of electoral politics were more or less similar.
The Congress party won 79.56 per cent of the seats in the first election held in 1952.
In the 1957 election, the Congress won 77.42 per cent of total seats against some strong challenge posed by Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and Communist Party of India (CPI); the results varied from the first election as the voters gained better understanding in terms of gauging the political issues.
A total of eight political parties contested the Assam election in 1967; INC secured 61.26 per cent of assembly seats compared with 83.87 per cent in 1962 and 77.425 per cent in 1957.
In 1972, the fifth election to the Assam legislative assembly was held. Nine political parties contested the election. Four key different trends were observed in the fifth assembly elections.
In February 1978, the sixth assembly election in Assam was held. There was a special significance of the sixth state assembly election of Assam in many aspects.
In that election, more than 938 candidates contested in 126 constituencies. The main political forces in this election were the Congress party, Congress (I), and the Janata Party. In this election, the Janata Party became the single largest party by winning 63 seats whereas the INC could only secure 26 seats, and therefore, the 1978 election in the state was a setback for INC.
During 1979-1985, an unprecedented socio-political development took place in Assam in the form of the Assam Movement (Anti- -Foreigners Agitation). Under those circumstances, the 1983 state legislative assembly election was boycotted by many political organisations associated with the movement and contested by Only INC (I) INC(S) and the left parties.
For the first time in the election history of the state, the polling percentage was the lowest ever at 32.74 pe rcent.
In the 1983 election, the Congress party came out as the single largest party securing 91 seats out of 110 assembly constituencies.
The government was formed with Hiteswar Saikia as the Chief Minister.
After the six-year-long Assam Agitation and Assam Accord, the 1985 election was a turning point in the political history of Assam.
Assam Accord was signed to dismiss the erstwhile Government of Assam. The election was announced immediately which led to the formation of a regional party named Asom Gana Parishad by the leaders of the movement. In the election for the state legislative assembly that was held in December 1985, nine political parties participated.
In the 1985 assembly election, the INC was pushed to the second position and the AGP emerged as a leading party. The AGP contested on 105 seats and bagged 63 seats.
In that election, another major development took place and that was the rise of United Minority Front of Assam (UMFA). As significantly strong regional parties AGP and UMFA posed tough challenges to the Congress party. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta took the charge as CM of the state.
In Assam, both the State Legislative Assembly election and the Lok Sabha election were held simultaneously in 1991. The law-and-order situation of the state became unmanageable during the later part of AGP rule in Assam, and the state was under the President's rule from November 1990 to June 1991.
In the 1991 election, the major development was the split of AGP into two fractions namely AGP and NAGP. Both the factions contested the election independently, INC took the advantage of this and captured most of the assembly seats. In this election, AGP and NAGP could retain only 19 and 5 seats; whereas INC secured 67 seats among the 126 constituency seats. Hiteswar Saikia took the charge as Chief Minister.
In the 1996 election, AGP and NAGP reunited and this strengthened the regional political party of the state for the second time. The Congress had faced a tough time over issues such as corruption, uprisings, and indiscriminate use of state machinery such as police, and armed forces for suppressing different anti-state activities.
AGP contested in 96 constituencies and secured 59 seats in the election whereas Congress (I) contested in all 122 seats but won only 34 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested 117 seats and won with only four seats.
For the first time in the 2001 assembly election of Assam, Asom Gana Parishad and BJP had an alliance. The AGP and BJP alliance presented a tough equation for Congress, and the party for the first time felt the need for electoral adjustment with the minor groups.
INC won 71 seats, whereas the AGP-BJP alliance secured 28 seats altogether in 123 constituencies. Tarun Gogoi took charge as Chief Minister.
In the 2006 election, INC contested in 120 seats, and won 53; AGP contested in 100 seats and won 24; both BJP and AIUDF won 10 seats each. Congress fought the 2006 election on the issue of development and peace.
Further, in the 2011 state assembly election, Congress contested in 126 constituencies and won 78 seats, followed by AIUDF, which secured 18 seats out of 78 constituencies it contested. But Congress could win in the 2011 election because of a lack of viable opposition. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi managed three consecutive terms as CM of the state, the party managed a facile victory.
The 2016 assembly election had seen an increase in the electorate numbers of around 18 lakh from the 2011 election. BJP, which contested in 89 seats for the first time, secured 60 and became the largest party in Assam.
The Congress followed the feat by securing 26 seats by contesting in 122 constituencies.
Despite competition, Congress could manage to retain power in the state for three consecutive terms up to 2016 but failed to take the different socio-political issues into the right direction.
The government led by the party became almost non-functional towards the end of the third term.
The BJP, however, made significant effort to mobilise the people from the grassroot levels and made fruitful alliances with different potential socio-political forces of the state.
BJP's efforts in the state were further augmented when the Narendra Modi-led government came to power in the Centre in 2014.
On the other hand, since independence, Muslims in Assam have remained a vote bank for the Congress. However, a large section of them, especially the immigrant Muslims were increasingly rallying behind the AIUDF.
As a result, the Muslim vote bank of the Congress party had been shrinking gradually.
As a result, since the 2006 assembly elections, the Congress party adopted a soft Hindutva approach to polarise the non-muslim voters and gain benefits against AIUDF.
However, to the non-Muslim voters of the state, the open Hindutva line of the BJP appeared more attractive than the Congress' two-pronged strategy.
The presence of a stalwart leader like Himanta Biswa Sarma in the BJP poses a serious challenge for the Congress to project a dynamic and influential leader in the state to stand up against the chief minister.