The 47 seats in the first phase spread across 12 districts of upper and northern parts of Assam with over 81 lakh voters are crucial for BJP to retain power as well as for Congress to stage a comeback. In 27 of these seats, tea garden voters are in a majority.
Among the remaining 20 seats, 14 are inhabited by other ethnic groups like Ahoms, Chutias, Mishings, Sonowal Kacharis, Morans, Mataks, Deori, Thengal Kacharis as well as indigenous Muslims. Only the last six seats, five of which are in Nagoan district and one (Naoboicha) in Lakhimpur district, have a sizeable number of migrant Muslim voters.
The next two phases are spread over the remaining 79 constituencies where the migrant Muslims voters come into play, and in large numbers.
Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal leads the pack of 264 candidates who are in the fray in the first round. Sonowal, a tribal, is seeking his second term as the representative of the reserved assembly constituency of Majuli river island.
Historical trends show that this region decides the electoral fortunes of any political party. In 2016, the BJP-AGP combine had won 35 of these 47 seats (BJP 27, AGP 8), while Congress had won in nine and AIUDF in two and one seat (Jonai) was won by an Independent candidate, Bhuban Pegu, who has now joined BJP. The saffron party’s 27 seats from this region was 45% of the total number of seats (60) it had won then.
BJP star campaigner Himanta Biswa Sarma is confident that the “NDA will win 42 to 43 seats in first phase.” BJP has fielded its candidates in 39 of these seats, while AGP will be contesting in 10.
BJP’s confidence is based on its two poll planks for these constituencies — sops to tea garden workers and its projection as the protector of Assamese identity of culture, language and tradition.