For well over 50 years, the key issue in Assam has been illegal immigration—and it will come to the fore in elections this year
Mint decodes the electoral puzzle of the state considered the Bharatiya Janata Party’s gateway to the North-East
New Delhi: Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha seats will go to the polls from 11 April. The 2014 voter turnout in Assam was 79.88%, higher than the all-India figure of 66.4%. Mint decodes the electoral puzzle of the state considered the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) gateway to the North-East.
Assam has a population of 31.2 million, with a literacy rate of 73.18%, a trifle lower than the country’s average of 74.04%. At 86%, Assam is third on the list of states with the highest share of rural population. The state’s sex ratio is 958, better than the country’s 943. Almost a fifth of the state’s population belongs to reserved categories. There is one Lok Sabha seat reserved for a scheduled caste candidate and two for those from the scheduled tribes. More than a third of the state’s area is covered by forests. It is home to several national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and golf courses.
What are the burning issues in Assam?
For well over 50 years, the key issue in the state has been illegal immigration. There are Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims living illegally in Assam and other states, particularly in the North-East. Political parties have said that their migration from Bangladesh has put pressure on the state’s resources, besides tilting its cultural balance. This has found resonance with some sections of the people, for whom arts, music and ethnicity precede religion. The row over the National Register of Citizens leaving out four million ordinary residents in Assam stoked the fire. The register remains a work in progress.
What are the natural resources in Assam?
Assam has great potential for tourism. The Brahmaputra river flows through the state, which has vast tea gardens. It is rich in oil, gas and wood. Tezpur boasts of the best air quality in India.
The Congress and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s Asom Gana Parishad were the main political parties. But after BJP captured power in 2016 it became the major player. The Congress is now a distant second, having been discredited for doing little to tackle illegal immigration. Mahanta, a former chief minister who led the Assam movement against illegal immigration in the 1980s, is in an alliance with BJP. So is the Bodoland People’s Front that wants a separate Bodoland. The All India United Democratic Front is a force in Muslim-dominated areas.
What is the row over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?
BJP brought the Bill but had to hold it back in the Rajya Sabha, where it lacked numbers. The Bill set 31 December 2014 as the cut-off date for Hindu, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh illegal immigrants. Those who entered Assam illegally after this date were to be deported, irrespective of their religion. For others, the cut-off date remained 24 March 1971. BJP felt the passage of the Bill would fetch it Hindu votes in Bengal. Assam and the North-East erupted in protest, but the anger has blown over for now.
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