The early morning prayers offered at a temple in Assam by Sarbananda Sonowal had the desired effect. The BJP leader, who is currently Union Sports Minister, will head his party’s first government in the North East, ending 15 years in office for the Congress’ Tarun Gogoi.
BJP, with its allies, won a whopping 87 of Assam’s 126 seats. Party leaders were unanimous that the fierce victory was powered by good partnerships and the decision to project strong local leaders, like Mr Sonowal, 53, and Himanta Biswa Sarma, a master strategist and influential leader who switched sides from the Congress.
“The big challenges will be sealing the border, infiltration, and unemployment,” said Mr Sonowal. Party leaders credited BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a historic win in a state where the BJP had virtually no presence.
At 34 per cent, Assam has the second highest percentage of Muslims among all states. An estimated 10 per cent of the state consists of Muslims who have migrated from Bangladesh, and gained Indian citizenship.
In rallies, BJP leaders promised to identify and deport younger illegal migrants, dismissed as bluster by analysts who said a full-scale drive to expel Muslim immigrants was highly unlikely. The party said it would welcome Hindus who migrate from Bangladesh, and will try to offer them citizenship. A stricter citizen registration programme to track future inflows will be introduced, Sarma has said.
Those sort of commitments were billed as deeply divisive, a charge rejected by the BJP, whose Assam leaders said that they stand firmly behind Indian Muslims. The incumbent Congress, headed by Gogoi, who has been denied a fourth consecutive term as Chief Minister, stubbornly refused to strike any alliance in Assam, and is now on the political poverty line with just 23 of 126 seats.
The main Muslim party in the state, the AIUDF, split the non-BJP vote precariously for the Congress, though its leader Badruddin Ajmal lost his election.