Bharatiya Janata Party Assam unit President Ranjeet Dass on Wednesday claimed that the massive protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the state would not make any political difference in the Assembly elections this year, and that his party would trounce the Congress-led alliance easily, The Hindu reported.

The 126-member Assam Assembly will go to polls in three phases on March 27, April 1, and April 6. The results will be out on May 2.

“The CAA is a non-issue,” Dass told the newspaper in an interview. “Had CAA been a factor, the BJP would not have won the panchayat polls after the first wave of protests. We won 100% seats in Assamese-dominated Assembly segments such as Patacharkuchi, Kamalpur and Bokakhat despite the perception that our core voters are Hindi speakers and Bengali Hindus.”

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, notified in 2019, made undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. Across the country, protests broke out against the law, seen as an assault on secular values inscribed in the Constitution.

In Assam, and other states of the North East, it activated older anxieties – that communities defined as indigenous to the region would be swamped by Bengali-speaking migrants from Bangladesh.

The protests have led to the birth of three regional parties in Assam that are expected to play a crucial role in overturning BJP’s fortunes in this year’s elections.

Of these, the Anchalik Gana Morcha has entered into an alliance with the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front. Two others – peasant activist Akhil Gogoi’s Raijor Dal (RD), and the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) – have joined hands to fight the polls as a combined anti-CAA forum against the BJP.

Dass, however, dismissed the possibility that any of these parties, including the Congress, could dent the BJP’s vote bank based on the CAA protests. He said the alliance of Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal hardly has a mass base and that its leaders were “flogging issues that no longer concern the people”.

He said the BJP was “absolutely not” worried about fighting alongside the three alliances in an election. “The Congress has illusions about it being relevant while the AJP-RD believes it can garner some emotional votes,” Dass added. “The latter can manage 4% to 5% votes at best.”

In fact, Dass claimed that the the Congress-AIUDF grand alliance may help the BJP gain a few seats from the Muslim areas they claim to have a hold on. This was because Muslims in Assam did not suffer violence in the last five years unlike during the Congress reign, the BJP leader claimed.

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Dass added that Muslims in the state had been equal beneficiaries of BJP’s developmental schemes, and therefore supported the saffron party. “For instance, 2.8 lakh of the 7 lakh beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana are Muslims,” the BJP leader told The Hindu. “Besides, analysis of the 2016 State and 2019 Lok Sabha polls shows our candidates and those of our allies got a sizeable chunk of Muslim votes in minority areas.”

The BJP leader said he was confident that his party will return because of the achievements of the alliance government and the activities of the party workers at the grassroots level. “We have done our calculations and believe people will vote for us on the basis of our performance,” Dass said.

Congress backs Akhil Gogoi’s call for united contest

Meanwhile, the Assam unit of the Congress on Wednesday said they supported jailed activist Akhil Gogoi’s suggestion that all opposition parties should get together and nominate a single “worthiest” candidate across all 126 Assembly constituencies to defeat the BJP and install a government that is against the CAA, according to The Hindu.

“There is merit in Akhil Gogoi’s suggestion, but it is up to our high command to decide on bringing his party on board,” Congress MLA from Nazira and leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia said. “At the same time, it is for the AIUDF to analyse its characteristics. If there is no BJP, there may not be any AIUDF.”

This came days after Gogoi wrote an open letter, saying that the consensus candidate was for all Opposition parties except the All India United Democratic Front led by MP Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. “We believe the BJP and the AIUDF are two sides of the same coin,” Gogoi had said. “Both are fundamentalists. We cannot take the support of one fundamentalist force to defeat another.”