The 2016 Assembly exit polls are out so are the Delhi based Chanakyas. BJP in Assam is already basking in glory as if it is already the evening of 19th May and they have successfully achieved their Mission Assam 82+. Various jubilant BJP leaders declared that the exit polls reflect people’s yearning for Poriborton (change).
The exit polls by various ‘national’ news channels were released at the end of the final phase of the elections in five states on 16th May. Three exit polls by leading channels predict that BJP and its alliance partners Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodo Peoples Front (BPF) will bag anywhere between 79 to 93 seats in the Assembly of 126 seats, while according to their predictions Congress and its alliance partner United Peoples Party (UPP) will be reduced to anywhere between 26 to 33 seats.
|India Today – Axis||79-93||26-33||6-10||1-4|
|ABP – Nielsen||81||33||10||2|
Looking at these three exit polls, it appears that it might turn out to be a Bihar 2015 redux where the exit polls were widely off the mark. In a state like Assam where political contour changes owing to demographic complexity, to rhetorically say, almost every 50 kilometers – the methodology of these polls are seriously suspect. Let us for example look at the sample sizes; NewX-Chanakya took a sample of 4829 voters, while India Today – Axis took 14025 and ABP-Neilsen took 14271 out of 16900769 votes polled. They have selected the constituencies randomly but have not revealed as yet which ones. If one were to select more constituencies from Barak valley and Eastern (Upper) Assam which went to polls in the first phase (65 seats) on 4th April ,it will throw up exit poll results that heavily favour BJP. The first phase saw a voting percentage of 82.02% and BJP+ is believed to have done exceedingly well in it. On the other hand if one were to select more constituencies from Central and Western (Lower) Assam which went to polls in the second phase (61 seats) on 9th April the exit polls would show good results for Congress. The second phase saw a staggering voting percentage of 87.03% and it is believed that BJP+ has lost much more ground than it expected.
Though these three exit polls have predicted sweeping results for BJP, another survey by Times Now – C voter gives much lower numbers of seats to BJP. This survey has given BJP 57 seats, Congress 41 seats, AIUDF 18 seats and 10 seats to the rest. To the best of my knowledge, Times Now – C voter has not put out the sample size or the randomly chosen constituencies.
The closest possible scenario has been predicted by an exit poll by a Guwahati based institution – Centre for Minority Studies, Research and Development (CMDR). CMDR survey team conducted the survey in 42 constituencies which cover one third of the total assembly seats. They clustered 3 similar constituencies in terms of demographics and chose 1 out of them. CMDR’s total sample size is 42,000 which mean a sample of 1000 per surveyed constituency. The sample of thousand was further divided into sub-homogenous clusters along ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics.[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]
|CMRD – Guwahati Exit Poll Assam Election 2016|
If the National news channel’s exit polls turn out to be a Bihar redux, and if CMRD exit poll turns out to be the closest to the actual election results, which I believe might be the case, both BJP+ and Congress+ will be nearly a dozen short of the magic number of 63 to form the Government. [/pullquote]
Even before the elections, it was clear to keen observers of Assam politics that BJP would perform well in the first phase in which Eastern Assam, Barak valley and the two hill districts went to polls. In the last Lok Sabha elections, it had won 4 out of 7 seats in these constituencies. In Eastern Assam BJP won Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Tezpur; the rest of the seats it won were Gauhati, Nagoan and Mangaldoi.
Apart from ‘Modi Wave’ and the general fatigue with the 15 year Congress rule, one of the key factors that contributed to BJP’s unprecedented performance in Eastern Assam was the shifting of allegiance of Tea Tribes from Congress to BJP. Tea Tribes are a deciding factor in over a dozen assembly constitutions. Congress traditionally maintained its stronghold by distributing alcohol, blankets and other goodies among the impoverished debt-ridden and extremely vulnerable Tea Tribes. It was alleged by various observers and journalists that BJP in 2014 got the debts of Tea Tribe families waived through the Marwaris of Guwahati who supervise the chain of kayas (small local traders) in Tea plantations who have historically been almost exclusively Marwaris.
In these assembly elections the BJP is said to have distributed cash among the Tea Tribes. Under the condition of anonymity, a Congress party worker from Dibrugarh told me quite candidly that it has become difficult for Congress to distribute goodies since the seizures during 2016 assembly elections; he admitted that Congress had also distributed cash but this time they could not catch up “with the money power of the BJP”. BJP central committee had officially earmarked 200 crores for the elections and grapevine has it that Himanta Biswa Sarma has spent 1200 crores from his black money stash.
Reports suggest that the majority from the Ahom community has also voted for BJP in the hope of being conferred the status of Scheduled Tribe. It has also been widely reported that Axomiya Muslims of the upper Assam have also voted in favour of BJP. But, in a telephonic conversation, a leader of the fledging party – Asom Songrami Moncho – refutes this. He says that while campaigning in Sibsagar for their candidate, their cadres have observed that while Axomiya Muslims publicly say that they will be voting for BJP, in private conversation Axomiya Muslims confess that they would vote for Congress. According to the Moncho leader, this is a strategy that the community has adopted partly out of fear of retribution in case the BJP comes to power, and partly to differentiate themselves from Muslims of immigrant origin who are largely perceived as Bangladeshis by the BJP and its supporters.
Since BJP’s entry into Assam during the 1991 elections, Barak Valley (which was a part of the Syhlet district before partition) has been it’s stronghold. In 1991 assembly election BJP won 10 seats out of which 9 seats were among the 15 seats in Barak valley. BJP’s 10 seats in 1996 were all in Barak Valley; in the elections of 2001 and 2006 the party snatched 9 and 7 seats respectively. In 2011 elections BJP could not win any seats whereas Congress wrested 14 out of the 15 seats. However, according to Jamsher Ali, senior journalist and General Secretary of CMRD, who supervised the CMRD exit poll is of the opinion that in this election BJP will win 10 to 12 seats while AIUDF will get 3 to 5 seats.
Local observers from the ground opine that in urban centres of Upper and Central Assam young voters who voted for the first time in 2014 or this time have swung towards BJP. Delhi based Assamese academic Biswajit Bora who observed the elections in Jorhat and Guwahati says that BJP’s aggressive social media propaganda of photoshopped development under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi drew first time voters towards BJP, and Congress couldn’t launch any aggressive social media campaign to counter BJP. Bora further adds that first time voters fell for the slogan of Poriborton, but when asked what do they understand by Poriborton they either drew blank or said “we have seen only Congress government and Poriborton is a change of Government”.
For BJP, the demographically complex Central and Western Assam which went to polls in the second phase on 9th April, is the trickiest. While BJP had won 3 LokSabha seats in Central Assam namely Nagoan, Mangaldoi and Guwahati, it had drawn a blank in Western Assam.
Though BJP won Nagoan and Mangaldoi in 2014, it won’t be easy sailing for BJP in many assembly constituencies falling under these Lok Sabha constituencies which have dense concentration of Muslims of the immigrant origin.
In Western Assam BJP’s alliance partner BPF is likely is win 5 to 7 seats in Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), other than this, in all probability BJP will not make any significant inroads in this region due to the substantial population of Muslim of immigrant origins as well as Dhubriya and Goalparia (also called Deshi) Muslims who inhabit the region. In fact BJP’s supposed good performance in the first phase and its attempts at polarizing the electorate by making statements like “BJP will make 1951 the cut-off year for detection of Bangladeshis” has only helped Congress at the cost of AIUDF. The high voting percentage and supposed good performance of BJP in the first phase led to an intense mobilization of voters in the next phase resulting in an 87.03% voter turnout. This, coupled with last minute vitriolic statements by BJP leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma reportedly resulted in the shifting of Muslim votes from AIUDF to Congress to stop the BJP from coming to power.
If the National news channel’s exit polls turn out to be a Bihar redux, and if CMRD exit poll turns out to be the closest to the actual election results, which I believe might be the case, both BJP+ and Congress+ will be nearly a dozen short of the magic number of 63 to form the Government.
The most likely scenario will be that Congress+ along with AIUDF will try to stake claims to form the Government. Sources within the Congress told me that they are already in back channel talks with AIUDF supremo Maulana Ajmal and with potential AIUDF MLAs. But even if Congress+ forms a post-poll alliance with AIUDF, they might still fall short of few seats. And that is where the 5 to 9 seats of independents and smaller ethnic parties will become crucial.
On the other hand, if BJP+’s tally hover around 56 to 57 seats, they too will try and woo the independent and smaller parties’ MLAs. However, if BJP+’s tally remains restricted under 50, there is a high probability that BJP’s alliance partner BPF will jump over the fence towards its old ally Congress. There are concrete reasons to believe this; BPF is still waiting for the 1000 crores package for Bodoland which Modi had promised during the Lok Sabha elections, and more importantly, despite pre-poll alliance with BJP, BPF Supremo Hagrama has been very candid in stating throughout the run-up to the election that BPF will go with whichever party or formation forms the government.
To conclude, after 19th May, crores of Rupees will change hands. It is most likely that the independent and smaller parties’ will become billionaires. With Himanta Biswas Sarma, the horse-trader of immense talent, – the field is wide open. It’s not the 19th of May but the days after that we have look out for.