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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.

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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: AssamGov.in
Assam District Map, source: Assam.gov.in

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 Swarajyamag.com)

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The Challenges Ahead: To Do List For Ukraine’s President-Elect

Here are some of the president-elect's most pressing challenges once he is inaugurated, presumably on June 3.

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy. RFERL

Ukraine’s presidential election — and all the drama, mudslinging, and accusations between Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy that went with it — is over.

Now it’s time to get back to governing, and there are a number of issues demanding attention from President-elect Zelenskiy, a political newbie with a billowing popular mandate but virtually no established institutional base.

By all accounts, the Ukrainian people sent a strong message in this election: They are dissatisfied with both the pace of reforms and their politicians’ efforts so far to root out corruption. The economy is still struggling, including with the consequences of the loss of control over Crimea to Russia. And a conflict in the country’s east that has already left more than 13,000 people dead since 2014 still simmers, with Moscow’s support for the armed separatists factoring into everything Kyiv does both at home and abroad.

Ukraine’s president does not head the government, but the office does wield significant influence, including veto power over parliament and the authority to appoint some senior officials. The Ukrainian president is also the commander in chief of the country’s armed forces, a crucial role given the ongoing conflict in the Donbas.

Here are some of the president-elect’s most pressing challenges once he is inaugurated, presumably on June 3.

Corruption

Nothing looms larger than corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, Ukraine ranks 120th out of 180 surveyed nations. The problem has deep roots.

From the courts to the cop on the street, bribery is “widespread among Ukrainian public officials.” According to the London-based Chatham House, tackling corruption in Ukraine will ultimately require “consensus among the elites to change the rules of the game.”

Some anticorruption efforts have not lived up to the hype. The newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau has yet to “achieve a high-level prosecution because of the influence of vested interests over the judiciary,” according to Chatham House. However, there are signs of hope. On April 11, Poroshenko announced the launch of a special corruption court, the High Anti-Corruption Court, that was a condition for a $3.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “Today, we see the result: 38 new judges proceed to perform their duties in the new court,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter at the time. It will be up to the president’s office to ensure that this court’s work is not impeded.

Zelenskiy has already signaled his eagerness to take on sitting officials with his election-night pledge to ensure the exit of Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s controversial top prosecutor.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko (file photo)
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko. RFERL

But as economist Timothy Ash pointed out around the same time, many observers will also be scouring for indications that Zelenskiy is not beholden to Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the exiled oligarch whose TV station, advisers, and possibly frequent counsel have played such a major role in the 41-year-old comic’s political rise.

Economy 

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have left more than 13,000 dead, tens of thousands injured, and more than a million people displaced, according to United Nations estimates. They also dealt a near death blow to Ukraine’s economy. The Donbas, epicenter of the continued fighting, is also the historical heart of much of Ukraine’s heavy industry. And warfare and economic growth don’t mix, although there is some room for optimism.

In 2015, Ukraine’s economy was shrinking, according to the World Bank,contracting by just under 10 percent. Since then, as international lending accelerated and the conflict has cooled a bit, Ukraine’s economy has recovered. The IMF is predicting growth of 2.7 percent for Ukraine in 2019.

There are other encouraging signs as well. Ukraine’s State Statistics Service recently reported that real wages were up 11 percent year-on-year in February. The average monthly nominal wage is 9,429 hryvnyas, or around $350. The average wage in Kyiv is up 50 percent. Foreign direct investment (FDI) remains meager at 2 percent, but “Ukraine has started reappearing on investors’ radar screens,” according to Andy Hunder, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine.


Energy Independence 

Russian’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 “was very much driven by undermining Ukraine’s energy and gas-diversification strategy,” according to Frank Umbach, an associate director at the European Center for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS).

The Russian takeover cost Kyiv its access to some of the vast offshore oil and gas resources in the Black Sea, estimated at 4 trillion-13 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, according to Umbach. Despite that and other major setbacks, Ukraine has made progress in decoupling itself from Gazprom, Russia’s state gas giant. In February, Ukraine’s state-owned energy firm Naftogaz won a landmark victory over Gazprom in a Stockholm courtroom. The judges of the Stockholm arbitration court ruled that Ukraine no longer has to buy a fixed amount from Gazprom.

Arbitrators also nullified the inflated gas prices agreed under a controversial deal struck by Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009, when she was prime minister.

Naftogaz, meanwhile, boasted in January that it had gone from importing 74 percent of its gas from Russia to getting all of its gas from elsewhere in Europe. In January, Ukraine exported its own natural gas to Europe for the first time in 15 years. In the future, experts say, Ukraine must tap into its own gas reserves. According to BP, Ukraine has 600 billion cubic meters (bci) of proven reserves, enough to meet its energy needs for 20 years. At the same time, more Ukrainians are opting for solar power. In 2018, more than 7,500 households installed solar panels on their homes, and those numbers are expected to grow.

Ukraine has greatly reduced its dependence on Gazprom for energy.
Ukraine has greatly reduced its dependence on Gazprom for energy. RFERL


Conflict In The East 

In early 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s armed forces numbered 157,000 troops. But only one brigade — around 6,000 service members — was considered battle-ready, according to Mykola Bielieskov, deputy director of the Institute of World Policy in Kyiv, in The National Interest. Prosecutor-General Lutsenko has since suggested that the country’s armed forces “nearly collapsed” in 2014.

Around 30 volunteer militias and private armies — some with far-right leanings, the Azov Battalion among the most notorious — helped fill that defense vacuum.

Today, Ukraine’s combined military ranks number about 250,000 active-duty troops and roughly 80,000 reservists. Ukraine has reportedly made huge strides building its own force of drones, integral to reconnaissance along the front lines.

“In the last two years since this organization has been set up, they’ve rapidly advanced from using dirigibles or balloons to do reconnaissance to building their own UAV systems,” Lieutenant Colonel Ty Shepard, a U.S. Army National Guardsman advising a Ukrainian military command and control program, told Air And Space magazine. “And that’s from zero.”

Machine-gunner Yana Chervona, the mother of two young children, was killed in a mortar attack by Russia-backed separatists on April 2.
Machine-gunner Yana Chervona, the mother of two young children, was killed in a mortar attack by Russia-backed separatists on April 2. RFERL

They also built up their arsenal, including with a shipment of Javelin antitank missiles from the United States in 2018, and Washington might be open to supplying more. On September 1, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and current U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker suggested in an interview with The Guardian that Washington’s future military aid to Kyiv could include weapon sales to Ukraine’s air force and navy as well as the army. (RFERL)