How did you repackage BJP for Assam?
Each state is different. It’s not about re-packaging the party but devising the right strategy for a given state. We devised a strategy for Assam keeping in mind the existing political situation and realities in the state.
Did you tone down your Hindutva agenda?
In Assam, we found that the people of Assam were worried about the lack of development by the Congress government. We made that one of our main issues. Second, there is a feeling among the Assamese that both their identity and honour have come under severe threat due to the large population of illegal migrants. We assured the people that we would bring development and do everything possible to secure Assam’s honour and identity.
What were the factors that worked to your advantage?
First, it was the coalition we cobbled up. It was a good mix… a wonderful rainbow coalition. It had representatives from every constituent of Assamese society — Bengali Hindus, Assamese Hindus, tea garden workers, Rabhas etc. Assam has seen such a broad coalition for the first time.
The second factor is that unlike in other elections, we did not allow this election to be influenced by national issues; we concentrated on state issues. The Congress tried to shift the discourse — they had more posters of Kanhaiya Kumar than of Rahul Gandhi. We refused to accept that and consistently brought back attention to local issues. They were so desperate that they even had photos of the Gujarat riots there. Our consistency and resolve not to get distracted helped us.
Third, the onus of the campaign was on local leaders. Of course, we had the Prime Minister, party president and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari. But the star campaigners were Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma. We tried our best to do everything at the right time. We have not committed any mistake during the campaign. One mistake could have cost us the election.
The RSS has been active on the ground in Assam for many years. Has it helped the BJP?
The RSS has been actively working in the Northeast for many decades, but in social and service areas. They don’t do politics. But the RSS’s association with every section of society helped us. There were many social organisations and groups that helped us and some of these were RSS-backed.
How far did Himanta Biswa Sarma’s entry help the BJP?
It helped us in two ways: first, his deserting the Congress substantially weakened that party. He was singularly responsible for the Congress’s victory in 2011. Sarma is hard working and is knowledgeable about Assam. He has worked very hard, untiringly.
Will you repeat your Assam strategy in other states?
Each state is different. You cannot have your Delhi strategy in Assam or anywhere else.
There have been many reasons attributed to the Congress’s debacle. What is it about the Congress that helped you?
Not many people know that we started working on Assam even before the general election of 2014. Our first success was when we won seven seats in that election. From there, continuously and consistently, the Congress has been weakened. Gogoi is a grassroots leader, but he could not sense the mood of the people. He was left alone and he had no one to bank on. In his 15 years of rule, Gogoi has left nothing for the Congress. The state’s human resource indices have gone from bad to worse. The Congress’s defeat was imminent.