BJP in Assam: Journey to success from minority to ruling party

From winning only 5 seats in the 2011 Assam Assembly elections, to winning 86 seats in 2016, BJP has come a long way, ending a 15-year Congress rule.


Guwahati: From winning only 5 seats in the 2011 Assam Assembly elections, to winning 86 seats the majority and preparing to form government in Assam in 2016, BJP has come a long way in the state, putting an end to the Congress rule of the past 15 years. As the Congress incumbent Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi conceded defeat and made way for Assam’s first BJP government with Sarbananda Sonowal as its chief ministerial candidate, NewsGram traces the meteoroidal rise of BJP in Assam.

Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Wikimedia Commons
Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Wikimedia Commons

• Since independence, Congress has ruled Assam for 50 out of the total 69 years, with Tarun Gogoi at its head for the past 15 years. Since the 1980s the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Congress were the key players in the politics of Assam, while other parties such as Communists and Janata Party were on the peripherals. Congress had consistently been winning elections by a majority except for a brief 21 month rule by the Janata Party in 1978.

Congress faced its first loss in 1985, when the AGP, born out of an anti-foreigner movement led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) secured a landslide win of 92 seats, leaving the Congress with only 25 seats.

BJP entered the political scene of Assam in 1991, winning only 10 seats and that too concentrated in the Barak Valley area of the state which had a large number of Bengali Hindus and Muslims, with a majority of them being migrants from Bangladesh and Congress again formed the government.

AGP Flag, Wikimedia Commons
AGP Flag, Wikimedia Commons

• In the next elections of 1996 AGP returned to power and BJP secured only 4 seats, once again in the state’s Barack Valley area.

• Before the 2001 Assembly polls, senior BJP leader and then Union Home Minister LK Advani attempted an alliance with AGP, representing the BJP’s interests of contesting 60 seats in the 126-member House, but after extended negotiations, was allotted 46 seats by AGP and won 8 seats.

Related article: BJP and AGP join hands

Assam District Map, source:
Assam District Map, source:

However, the 2001 BJP win of 8 seats is significant as the party secured seats in areas of Assam apart from Barak Valley, such as in Upper Assam (Duliajan) and Sonitpur on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, areas which had traditionally been Congress strongholds.

• BJP increased its base by winning 10 seats in the 2006 polls, gaining more seats in the Upper Assam and north bank areas including the crucial Dibrugarh seat in Upper Assam, apart from its traditional base in Barak Valley. While Congress did not win a majority in 2006, it formed the government by forging alliances with other parties.

Although BJP secured only 5 seats in 2011, their win was significant as none of the seats secured were from its strong-hold area of Barak Valley, instead BJP won seats in Lower Assam, Central Assam and Upper Assam.

• By 2011 the popularity of the Congress government was disseminating as Assam slid down development indicators and growth stagnated. The Gogoi government, in power for 15 consecutive years, was viewed as inefficient, uncaring and corrupt.

The ‘Modi effect’ spreading across the country in addition to the efforts of RSS in Assam revolutionized the image and impact of BJP in the state, which has ultimately led to the landslide victory of 86 seats in 2016.

 Assam Chief Minister -designate Sarbananda Sonowal, Wikimedia Commons
Assam Chief Minister -designate Sarbananda Sonowal, Wikimedia Commons

RSS Strategy
RSS used extensive perseverance and welcomed Assamese sub-nationalism into its fold. The two most prominent BJP members in Assam, chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal and master strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma who both were a part of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU)-led Assam movement have proved to be priceless assets for the BJP. Sonowal was president of AASU before joining the AGP, after which he became an MLA then Lok Sabha MP of the AGP before joining BJP in 2011. Sarma earlier was a part of Congress, before quitting in protest against Gogoi’s style of functioning before formally joining BJP in August 2015. In addition to Sonowal and Sarma, RSS also inducted popular politicians like Bijoya Chakraborty, Dibrugarh Rameshwar Teli and Ramen Deka from other parties into BJP
Apart from incorporating big-wigs into BJP, RSS reached out to the general population of Assam, from tea garden laborers to large sections of the Ahoms, the original inhabitants of the state.

Interesting Fact: In a turn of events from the 2001 Assembly polls where BJP was allotted only 46 seats by AGP despite extended negotiations, in 2016 when AGP was keen on an alliance with BJP, AGP was allotted only 24 seats by BJP.

(Inputs from