BJP Retains Assam Hold But Loses Grip On Northeast

The Congress’ sweep of Manipur is expected to trouble the BJP in the northeast

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is addressing from his custom-made bus during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Kohima, India, in the northeastern state of Nagaland, on January 16, 2024. Photo: Getty Images

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) bettered its tally in Assam, taking it to 11 from 10 in 2019. The election saw a high-pitched campaign on the Hindu nationalist line led by the state’s BJP chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. 

The BJP won nine seats, the same as in 2019. Its allies, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party, Liberal (UPPL), won one each. 

The Congress’ tally remained the same at three, though its performance – especially the big margin win by the state’s main Congress leader, Gaurav Gogoi – is being seen as indicative of the scope of improvement in the future. The Congress lost the Karimganj seat by a slim margin of 18,000 votes after a neck-and-neck contest with the BJP. 

Apart from retaining its hold of Assam, the BJP has also registered landslide victories in both seats in Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. With these, the BJP’s tally in the northeast stood at 13 and the NDA’s at 15. 

However, this is lower than the NDA’s tally of 18 seats in the northeast in 2019. The region, made of seven states, has 24 Lok Sabha seats. 

While the result in Assam, the largest state of northeast India with 14 seats, has come as a relief to the BJP, its loss of hold in other northeastern states – Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram, has rung an alarm bell among the BJP leadership involved in strategy-making for the northeast. 

The results in trouble-torn Manipur have come as a particular shock to the BJP, as the Congress won both seats in the state with big margins. 

While Manipur has remained on the boil for one year in ethnic clashes between the majority Meiteis and Kuki tribal groups, the Congress has won both the Meitei-dominated Inner Manipur and Naga and Kuki tribes-dominated Outer Manipur seats. 

The Manipur results may spell further trouble for the N Biren Singh-led BJP government in the state, as the results are expected to be seen as the people’s lack of trust in the BJP. 

The Congress also wrested the Nagaland Lok Sabha from NDA partner Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). 

Even in Meghalaya, the BJP’s ally National People’s Party (NPP) faced a setback, with the Congress wresting the Tura seat from them and the newly-launched Voice of People Party defeating the NPP in Shillong. 

In Mizoram, Zoram Peoples Movement (ZPM) won the only Lok Sabha seat, defeating Mizo National Front (MNF), which was earlier in alliance with the BJP. Here the Congress’ vote was three times higher than the BJP’s. 

The VOPP and ZPM are not part of the NDA or the INDIA bloc.

One of the most significant developments in the Assam election is the overwhelming consolidation of Bengali Muslim votes in favour of the Congress. 

Since 2009, a large section of Bengali Muslims – who constitute over 30 per cent of the state’s population – has favoured the perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) over the Congress. However, the 2024 election saw the Congress trouncing Ajmal in his Dhubri bastion. 

The three-time MP lost by a margin of over 10 lakh votes to the Congress. Dhubri possibly marks the highest margin victory for any candidate in the 2024 national election. AIUDF’s vote share took a beating also in all constituencies with a significant Bengali Muslim population — Nagaon, Barpeta, Karimganj and Darang-Udalgiri.  

Gaurav Gogoi’s victory from Jorhat is significant, as it opens up the Congress’ way for making inroads in upper Assam, which has remained a bastion of the BJP since their assembly election win in 2016. During the campaign, the opposition alliance highlighted Gogoi as “the voice of Assam in Delhi” and it appears to have connected with the locals. 

According to political observers, if the Congress continues with its alliance with smaller parties like Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal (RD), the opposition would have a good chance of increasing its influence in upper Assam, where Assamese ethnic sentiments have been the strongest. 

Notably, Biswa Sarma attributed the NDA’s Assam performance to “the overall transformation Assam has been experiencing in the last 3 years” – his chief ministerial tenure – and not to PM Modi’s Union government’s successes, which is the usual way BJP leaders attribute their electoral successes. 

Biswa Sarma pointed out that the Lok Sabha results’ assembly seat-wise lead translates to the NDA’s lead in 90 of the state’s 126 assembly seats, better than the 2021 assembly election, in which the NDA bagged 75 seats.   

However, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hoped that Gogoi's performance has ensured “the countdown for the exit of the Assam CM Himanta Biswa has also begun!” The Assam assembly elections are due in 2026.