BJP Sets Stage for Big Assam Push by Merging Districts, Altering Boundaries

Date:

Tanuj Dhar

GUWAHATI – Six-time MLA, former Minister, and once-Congress heavyweight Gautam Roy fought the 2021 Assembly election on the BJP’s ticket from Katigorah constituency in Assam’s Cachar district.

In the golden era of Congress in the state, Roy was a very powerful leader. He had a close relationship with the former Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi. It is widely believed that he has very good equations with Himanta Biswa Sarma too.

Though many in the BJP objected to Roy’s inclusion in the party in 2019, people foresee that he could join due to Sarma’s backing. Whatever the facts, the Congress turncoat was a very strong contender in the election from Katigorah for the BJP.

This seat was once a stronghold for the BJP, with the party’s candidate winning a number of times. But, later, as the demographics changed, the seat went to the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). In 2016, the saffron camp won back the seat, taking advantage of a triangular fight with the presence of two strong candidates from Congress and the AIUDF.

The incumbent MLA was denied a ticket by the BJP in the 2021 polls to accommodate Roy in that seat. Interestingly, the former minister was keen to fight election from that seat and he even declared his candidature before a formal announcement by the party which is rare in the BJP. It was Roy’s tall image that made this possible.

However, he lost the election by a few votes to a less familiar candidate from the Congress-AIUDF combine. The pollsters anticipated Roy’s loss due to the increased Muslim population in Katigorah’s assembly seat.

This time, when Election Commission (EC) announced to carry out delimitation exercise in Assam, barely few hours before the EC’s restriction was scheduled to come into effect, the state government through an urgent cabinet meeting made the elision of four districts and merged them with others. Also, the boundaries of at least 14 districts in the state were altered.

This has created a ruckus in Assam, and protests have already erupted in different parts of the state. Many have questioned Himanta Biswa Sarma’s motive behind such a big decision.

Firstly, the whole process has not happened overnight. The state BJP under Sarma’s leadership was planning it for quite a long time.

The Muslim population in the state has been on the rise for two decades, which is much higher than the country’s average increase. In the 2001 census, Assam recorded a 30.9 per cent Muslim population. The figure increased to 34.2 per cent in the 2011 census.

Meanwhile, the Muslim population has witnessed a surge of only 0.8 per cent in the country during that period.

In last 10 years, the population of Muslim community must have increased further as per the political pundits and statisticians. Although the BJP has been in power in Assam since 2016, the party sees the rise in the Muslim population as a big threat to their success.

Batadrava, the birthplace of 16th-century Vaishnav saint Srimanta Sankardev, has also witnessed a major surge in its Muslim population.

BJP lost this seat in 2021 Assembly polls. After assuming office as Chief Minister, Sarma mentioned a number of times that this assembly seat must be ‘saved’ from Bangladeshi ‘invaders’. He was hinting about the delimitation exercise for this purpose.

The state administration was silently preparing a blueprint for an alteration of the district jurisdiction to ‘adjust’ Muslim population in such a way that, while leaving some seats, the rest could be made ‘safe’ to win for a Hindu candidate in the polls.

The data showed that most of the rise in the Muslim population occurred in the Lower and Southern Assam (Barak Valley) areas of the state.

In Barak Valley, there are 15 assembly seats. In 2021, the BJP could manage to win only six out of these 15 seats due to the grand alliance between Congress and the AIUDF, as Muslim votes are deciding factors in many of these seats.

This time, Sarma’s government machinery has drastically changed the boundaries of three districts in Barak Valley to tinker with the demography in many assembly constituencies. As for example, in Katigorah assembly seat, a town area of Badarpur from the adjacent Karimganj district has been added to it for increasing the Hindu votes.

Along with that, as many as 17 villages from the Katigorah revenue circle have been shifted under a faraway circle to lower the Muslim population here. This has been done in a bid to secure the seat for a BJP candidate in the upcoming polls.

The Katigorah assembly seat is just a template the state administration followed before carrying out the decision of merging four districts and changing the boundary of other 14 districts.

Sarma’s government machinery has not touched the districts where either there is no need for any alteration to increase the tally of Hindu votes, or nothing can be done to make a seat ‘safer’ for a Hindu candidate to win on a BJP’s ticket.

Assam has a total of 126 assembly seats.

The sources in the BJP say that the recent exercise has ‘secured’ at least 98 seats for the party to win. Many believe that the ‘tinkering’ in the demography of the individual districts will also help the BJP achieve its ‘Mission 12 Plus’ target in the next year’s Lok Sabha polls in the state. -IANS

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