Congress-AIUDF grand alliance may help us gain a few seats from the Muslim areas they claim to have a hold on, says Assam BJP president
Journalist-turned-politician Ranjeet Kumar Dass has been the BJP’s Assam unit president since December 2016. He is credited with introducing the idea of community-based and neighbourhood committees of the party besides keeping the prishtha pramukh — a member in charge of 60 people on a page of the electoral rolls — machine well-oiled. A two-time MLA from Sorbhog in the Muslim-dominated Barpeta district and a former Speaker of the 126-member Assembly, he is confident of BJP and its allies winning more than 100 seats despite the Congress stitching up a seven-party ‘Mahajot’ (grand alliance). He also said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was a non-issue. Excerpts from an interview:
Does an unprecedented electoral contest involving three alliances, one led by the BJP, worry you?
Absolutely not. The alliance of regional parties Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal (RD) hardly has a mass base and are flogging issues that no longer concern the people. In 2016, we had little or no presence in the seats that rivals-turned-allies Congress and AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front headed by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal) won. The Congress-AIUDF grand alliance may help us gain a few seats from the Muslim areas they claim to have a hold on.
We have the support of the people including Muslims who have been equal beneficiaries of the developmental schemes. For instance, 2.8 lakh of the 7 lakh beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana are Muslims. Besides, analysis of the 2016 State and 2019 Lok Sabha polls shows our candidates and those of our allies got a sizeable chunk of Muslim votes in minority areas. Muslims in Assam did not suffer violence in the last 5 years unlike during the Congress reign. Their mindset is changing as was evident from the byelections to the Muslim-majority Jania Assembly seat where we got 15,000 votes. We could barely manage 5,000 earlier.
Will the anti-CAA sentiments whipped up in the Assamese-dominated areas by the AJP-RD and Mahajot be a challenge for you?
The CAA is a non-issue. The Congress has illusions about it being relevant while the AJP-RD believes it can garner some emotional votes. The latter can manage 4-5% votes at best. That the RD is the party of (jailed peasants’ rights activist) Akhil Gogoi, who had in 2016 asked people to vote for Congress, will help us. Had CAA been a factor, the BJP would not have won the panchayat polls after the first wave of protests. We won 100% seats in Assamese-dominated Assembly segments such as Patacharkuchi, Kamalpur and Bokakhat despite the perception that our core voters are Hindi speakers and Bengali Hindus.
The BJP has given special attention to the Adivasis or “tea tribes” despite claiming to enjoy their support. Is this a sign of nervousness?
We have given and will give special attention to the Adivasis because Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants us to focus on people who have remained backward over decades of Congress rule. Many schools have been opened across the tea belt, miles of roads made, cash transferred in the accounts of tea workers, mobile phones given to sardars (heads of a group of tea workers), ₹12,000 given to pregnant women workers… We are neither nervous nor not confident about the support of our Adivasi brothers and sisters. They deserve the attention, as do other communities.
What about the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) where your former ally, Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) almost won the council polls in December 2020?
We will be contesting the 12 Assembly seats in BTC areas in alliance with United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL), with whom we formed the new council. If you look at the 2016 elections, our vote share was almost equal to BPF and UPPL in two BTC districts and somewhat less in the other two. Together, the BJP and the UPPL will do well in the BTC areas. All other tribal councils — Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao, Tiwa, Rabha, Mishing, Thengal Kachari, Sonowal Kachari, Deuri — are with the BJP. We enjoy the tribal people’s support because of our programmes.
What makes you so confident?
We will return to power because of the achievements of our alliance government and the activities of our party workers at the grassroots level. We have 4 lakh prishtha pramukhs who connect door-to-door. Of the 2.19 crore voters in Assam, 96 lakh are beneficiaries of government schemes. We have 42 lakh online members, 8 lakh offline members and 3,000 people are joining us every day. We have done our calculations and believe people will vote for us on the basis of our performance.