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Do-or-die for Congress


The election bugle has been sounded for126-member Assam Assembly which will be a do-or-die battle for the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party will be desperate to expand its footprint in this northeastern state. Assam will witness two phase polling with the first being on April 4 when 61 constituencies will be covered, and second on April 11 when 65 constituencies will go to the polls. For the Congress, where Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is battling anti-incumbency after staying in power for 15 years, this will be a crucial election. Congress has no tie up with any other party this time. The Congress has not won a single state election after its disastrous performance in the 2014 general election though it took some solace in November last year's victory in Bihar being part of the Grand Alliance. Gogoi is generally considered to be competent but there is a palpable yearning for a new face as the Chief Minister. In 2011 assembly elections, the Congress had won 78 seats.

On the other hand, the BJP will make all out efforts to make its presence felt in this northeastern state after its performance in Assam in the 2014 Lok Sabha election where it bagged seven of the14 seats. Riding on the wave of Narendra Modi's popularity in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP snatched some big wins in Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and formed government in Jammu and Kashmir as junior partner. The party which will pose a huge challenge has declared its quest to win two-thirds majority in elections under its Mission 84. This time, the BJP has stitched together a formidable alliance with Asom Gana Parishad. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who made the announcement in New Delhi on March 3, said the ""massive infiltration"" in Assam and the ""collusion of patronage"" of the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government will be their main poll issue. The BJP has already entered in a tie up with Bodoland People's Front, which will contest 16 seats, in addition to two other outfits representing local tribes.

An alliance with the AGP, which is now a much weaker force but retains some influence, will help BJP which emerged the largest party in 2014 general elections. In a first, the BJP named its state unit president and Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, as its Chief Ministerial candidate in Assam. The party seems to have learnt tough lesson in Delhi and Bihar losses. The saffron party has embraced 10 Congress MLAs led by Himanta Biswas Sharma, who was an influential minister in the Gogoi cabinet after their defections. The BJP will be banking heavily on the experience of Sharma, who oversaw the last assembly elections and engineered the Congress' astounding victory when the political pundits were writing the obituary of the grand old party during the elections in the state. But there has been a dip in the popularity of Modi as he has struggled to implement any of his much flaunted promises.

Early, the BJP's growth in Assam has been largely at the expense of AGP. Interestingly, both the parties have fared badly whenever they entered in alliance in the past. Their first attempt to come together ended in a catastrophe in 2001 as the ruling AGP was unseated by the Congress. The AGP had managed just 20 seats where as BJP bagged eight while Congress romped home with 71 seats. The two parties again decided to forge an alliance and made up in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls but the decision boomeranged on the AGP which won just one seat and BJP got four. In the 2011 assembly elections, both the AGP and the BJP contested separately. It remains to be seen whether the BJP will succeed in Mission 84 or if Congress continues to have its hold on Assam."

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