Winning at least 20 out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the northeast is an uphill task, yet the BJP is hopeful of achieving its target of Mission 20 plus for 2024 in this region.
However, achieving this target depends largely on the saffron party’s poll performance in Assam, which accounts for 14 LS seats.
In the 2019 general elections, the BJP won nine out of the 14 seats in Assam. They lost in Dhubri to AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal, and the Congress won three seats -- Nagaon, Kaliabor, and Barpeta.
The Kokrajhar LS seat was won by the BJP’s ally, the United People's Party Liberal (UPPL).
This time, the BJP is desperate to increase its tally in the state. Apart from retaining all seats it won in the previous Lok Sabha election, the party is also eying three seats currently held by Congress MPs.
Pradyut Bordoloi’s Nagaon seat is the BJP’s first target. The saffron party won this seat more than once, even before becoming a strong force in 2014. Rajen Gohain served consecutively four times in the Lok Sabha --in 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014 -- representing Nagaon constituency.
In 2019, Gohain was not given a ticket, and the BJP fielded a younger face in Rupak Sarma to replace the four-time MP. Gohain, who served as a Union minister in the first Modi cabinet, was unhappy over the ticket distribution and expressed his feelings. This led to some anger at the local level as well and the BJP lost the seat to Bordoloi.
Rajen Gohain on Friday claimed that following the delimitation exercise, the Nagaon seat would become even tougher for the BJP to win and the AIUDF now has the upper hand here.
However, Himanta Biswa Sarma is determined to win back Nagaon constituency, and as per sources, the party has prepared the ground for a good show.
Congress veteran leader and former chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s son, Gaurav Gogoi, is the MP from Kaliabor constituency. This seat has been scrapped in the delimitation exercise and a new Lok Sabha seat Kaziranga has been formed.
According to a senior BJP leader, the new seat has majority Hindu votes and it will be an easy win for the party in the next general election.
In Barpeta and Dhubri, the Muslim population is more than 50 percent. In its internal meetings, the BJP has dropped the chance of winning these seats and decided to strongly contest the remaining 12 seats.
Heavyweight minister and the chief minister’s close aide Pijush Hazarika sarcastically said, "We have intentionally left a few seats for the Congress and the AIUDF and are going to win in 12 out of 14 Lok Sabha seats."
Reacting to this, Assam Congress president Bhupen Borah told IANS, "the BJP knows their situation is very bad in most of the seats in the state. I bet that if elections are held today, the Congress will win at least seven Lok Sabha constituencies here."
Apparently, at this point, the BJP is riding high in the state on the popular image of chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Assam has a nearly 30 percent Muslim population, and this chunk is unhappy with Sarma’s way of functioning. Incessant eviction drives in Muslim-dominated areas, cracking down on the madrasas, a high number of police encounters, and recent action against child marriage -- the Muslims in the state feel that they have been the administration’s target in almost all things. They will definitely vote against the BJP in the 2024 general elections.
Himanta Biswa Sarma knows this very well and has repeatedly said that he does not have ‘Miya’ votes, a term coined explicitly by the Assam chief minister to refer to Bengali-speaking Muslims in the state.
The BJP might have easy wins in the seats in the upper Assam area as the Hindus outnumber the Muslim population there. The scenario would change in lower Assam and Barak Valley, where Muslim votes generally decide who wins or loses.
For example, the Karimganj LS seat in Barak Valley was won by the BJP in the 2019 polls after many years. This was possible because both the Congress and the AIUDF fielded strong candidates; in fact, at that time, the sitting MP was from Badruddin Ajmal’s party. In the triangular fight among the three parties, the BJP won the seat by a narrow margin.
The situation is almost identical in half a dozen seats in Barak Valley and lower Assam. A combined candidate from the entire opposition would pose a great challenge to the BJP. But as the “INDIA” alliance has excluded the AIUDF, it is an advantage for the BJP.
The recent delimitation has shown that the BJP internally reviewed the demography in Assam in a comprehensive way and tried to ‘tweak’ the exercise in their favour by scrapping four districts just before the ECI announced the dates of delimitation.
To come up with a promising outcome from the northeast in next year's polls, the BJP must do extremely well in Assam.
In some of the states here, like Meghalaya, Mizoram, and even Nagaland, the BJP cannot win on its own strength. They would have to rely on allies. Therefore, Sarma’s strategy is to go all out to win the maximum number of seats in Assam.
If the BJP fails to do well in Assam, the entire dynamics in the northeast for the saffron camp would change dramatically.