Assam has voted against Congress. In its quest for change, the state has voted overwhelmingly for the Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance partners.

It was an election that was pitched by BJP and its allies as the last battle of survival for the “indigenous” in Assam. By the same token, it had also become a battle for survival for those designated “non-indigenous”. With the stakes pitched so high, the state witnessed record polling.

The final verdict was even more extraordinary: The BJP and its allies won 45% of the total votes polled, winning 86 out of the 126 seats in the Assembly.

Sarbananda Sonowal is all set to form the BJP’s first ever government in the northeastern region.

Although constituency wise and poll booth level data analysis will reveal the sharper trends behind this result, here is a preliminary analysis on what made this possible and what it means.

The son of the soil

In Sarbananda Sonowal, the BJP found the prodigal “son of the soil”. Sonowal had been a star of Ancholikotabaad orAssamese regionalism. First, as general secretary and then as president of the All Assam Student’s Union from 1992 to 1999 he, along with Sammujal Bhattacharjya, is credited with bringing a new lease of life to the foundering fortunes of AASU, that was then considered a spent social force in the state.

His tenure at AASU saw conscious efforts to build bridges across the faultlines of ethnicity and identity that developed at the height of the Assam Movement (1979-85) and got sharpened and intensified in later years.

Sonowal guided AASU into trying to establish camaraderie with other “tribal students groups” in the state in the “greater interest of an Assam where the dominance of the indigenous prevails”. It was in this phase of AASU’s political metamorphosis that the idea of a multi-ethnic coalition around the axis of “indigenous identity” was mooted.

Until January 2011, Sonowal remained a member of the Asom Gana Parishad, the party that emerged out of the Assam Accord of 1985.

In a way, therefore, the BJP’s campaign to protect “Jati, Mati Aaru Bheti (nation, land and identity)“ could be seen as a logical extension of the project of Assamese Nationalism initiated by Sonowal and company themselves nearly a decade back.

The indigenous Assamese

The rights, fears and frustrations of the “Khilonjiya or tholua Asomiya” – and protecting the “indigenous Assamese” – eventually became responsible for forging a “rainbow alliance” between the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bodoland People’s Forum, Asom Gana Parishad, and some tribal leaderships like the Rabhas and Tiwas, without necessarily having to emphasise too much on the party’s larger Hindutva agenda.

It is important to remember that Sonowal, the “jatiyo nayak” or national hero, was instrumental in challenging the controversial Illegal Migrants’ Determination by Tribunal Act in the Supreme Court, leading to its eventual scrapping. Now that he will head the BJP government in Assam, what will be the future of the thorny issue of detection and deportation of the alleged illegal immigrants from Assam?

Specially, Sonowal is seen as a custodian of the Assam accord and hence accepting 1971 as the base year for detecting illegal influx. On the other hand, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Tarun Gogoi’s poster boy turned dissident, who abandoned the Congress to join the BJP, was seen campaigning for 1951 as the new base year for detecting illegal influx into the state.

The other extremely delicate issue that is specially likely to test the fragile alliance between the new-found partners AGP and BJP will be BJP’s position on the issue of granting refugee status to Bangladeshi Hindus into Assam.

Groups like AGP and AASU have been claiming that the “foreigner issue” should be approached without any religious consideration.

The young voters

This election marked a triumph for Sarma. Widely regarded as a brilliant floor-manager and strategist, his induction from the Congress was a calculated risk the BJP national leadership took at the cost of potentially creating rifts within their own state unit, unhappy at the import of “corrupt elements of the Congress”.

The logic seemed to be – and was well vindicated – that the vote pulled by Sarma towards BJP would be much more than the votes the party stood to lose because of him.

Sarma had a long association with youth politics in the state, having experience of leadership with both AASU and Youth Congress. In fact, he brought along a large chunk of Youth Congress loyalists. The “new BJP” in Assam are primarily these relatively younger lot who had their roots in Youth Congress as well as National Students’ Union of India, the Congress party’s student wing.

But it was not just this youth, associated with politics already, that made the difference. Sections of the so-called “apolitcal” youth, who are known to maintain their distance from “youth activism”, also are said to have been enthused to become first time voters, mobilised by BJP’s smart campaign, particularly in the social media.

There are reports of many first time voters enthusiastically voting for parivartan – or change. Non residential Assamese youth, residing in different parts of India and some even from outside India, are reported to have scheduled their visits to the state in such a way that they too could be part of this historic mandate.

It would thus seem that the “youth vote” probably swung heavily in favour of the BJP in three interlocking ways – Sonowal pulled the AASU or regionalist votes, Sarma pulled some votes of the Youth Congress and NSUI camps, while the “apolitical” and “non partisan” youth were charmed by Modi’s pitch of change and development.

The regional and the national

Himanta Biswa Sarma acknowledges Hiteshwar Saikia, the wily former Congress Chief Minister of the state at the time of Assam Movement, as his mentor. Saikia was to prove instrumental in substantially eroding the influence of the “regional camp” by orchestrating the break up in United Liberation Front of Assam, and had once famously declared Congress to be a National party with an essentially regional outlook.

Assam 2016 is further proof of the fact that elections are essentially fought and won locally. But, the local in Indian politics often has an equally important national connotation. Issues of granting tribal status, protecting citizenship rights, assuaging identity crisis are local grievances but all of them need a national resolution eventually.

The party that seems to have made the “right promises” on these issues with the perceived “credibility” to fulfil them has caught the voters’ fancy.

It might well turn out to be a vote of anxiety, and less of zeal and enthusiasm, that BJP and allies have secured in Assam.

Kaustubh Deka teaches political science at the Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University, and is a former fellow with the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai.