Guwahati: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) created history in Assam on Thursday, ending the Congress’s 15-year rule with a decisive mandate that vaulted it to power in the state for the first time.

The victory in Assam also means the BJP will get to play a decisive role in the politics of the tumultuous northeastern region, where it has until now been a marginal political force.

BJP and its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) won a combined 86 seats in the 126-member Assam assembly. On its own, the BJP won 60 seats, the AGP 14 and the BPF 12 seats.

After being in office for three straight terms under chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the Congress ended up with just 26 seats, feeling the sting of an anti-incumbency wave and popular desire for change.

“The BJP was conscious of the 15-year-long yearning for development of the people of Assam," said Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, vice- president of the party. “BJP succeeded in presenting itself as a harbinger of development, good governance and social harmony. Besides, our credibility on the front of Assam being made free of the infiltrators has always remained hugely high. For making Bharat Congress-mukt (Congress-free), we’re trying to make BJP-yukta (capable)."

Senior leaders of the BJP said the party’s alliance with the AGP and BPF had helped it build a much-needed local grassroots network which in turn helped it script victory.

The turnaround for the BJP goes back to 2012, when Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal joined the party and was made president of its state unit. Sonowal, 53, who was earlier in the AGP, is among popular young faces of Assam politics.

Sonowal’s presence meant the BJP fought the election with a definite chief ministerial candidate—the first time that it did so in Assam.

The move paid off. The BJP got a vote share of 29.5%, the AGP 8.1% and BPF 3.9%. The Congress received a vote share of 31%, down from 39.39% in the last assembly election.

The BJP also benefitted from internal squabbles in the Congress state unit which prompted Himanta Biswa Sarma to leave the state’s ruling party in 2013 and join the BJP. Sarma was a minister in the Gogoi cabinet, but quit after bitter differences with the chief minister.

“In this election campaign, Congress was a disaster in terms of both ideas and images. Its campaign was too generic and it had nothing specific for the people of Assam. In sharp contrast, the BJP’s vision was more state-specific with a forward-looking promise of development. This worked for BJP," said Nani Gopal Mahanta, head of political science department at Gauhati University.

“Since the AGP’s decline in the 1990s, the Congress has virtually remained unchallenged in the state. The BJP stepped in at a time when there was fatigue against Gogoi, and voters, specially youngsters, were looking for change," he added.

In Arunachal Pradesh, also in the northeast, the BJP is propping up a government led by dissident Congress politician Kalikho Pul, who became chief minister in February.

The decisive victory in Assam will put it in a position to increase its political footprint in the northeast.

Members of the BJP also say that long before the state polls, the party had been aware of a huge anti-incumbency wave against the Gogoi government, which was battling allegations of corruption and had suffered because of a perceived lack of connect with the people.

The party used that to its advantage to build on the gains it reaped in the 2014 general election, when it won half the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam—the most ever.

The BJP’s strong electoral performance in Assam is in part due to the efforts put in by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its spiritual parent, which helped spread its network in the north-east.

“The mobilization of voters, especially the middle class, was an advantage for the BJP," said Pahi Saikia, assistant professor of political science at the department of humanities and social sciences at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.

The worst blow to the AIUDF was the defeat of its chief Badruddin Ajmal, who was being viewed as a possible kingmaker in case of a hung assembly. He was defeated by Congress candidate Wajed Ali Choudhury in South Salmara seat by 16,723 votes.

BJP’s chief Ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal won a convincing victory in Majuli (ST) seat and outgoing Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi won in Titabor. BJP’s state election convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, who left Congress to join the saffron party, romped home with a record margin 85,935 votes over Congress candidate Niren Deka.

Track the election results in individual constituencies here.

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