Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said in a rally in Assam that he has a special bond with the state since he used to sell the famous Assam tea in his younger days. This remark is very Modi-like as the man is known to be a master of oratory skills who also knows the business of linking things to his benefit the best than any other of his contemporary politicians.
For Modi, personal facts to connect to voters is a key strategy
For Modi who leads a party which is yet to become a strong organisation in parts of the country beyond the Hindi heartland, bringing in personal factors to connect to the voters becomes a key strategy and the 'chaiwala factor' has done wonders for the leader in the past, thanks to the jibe made by Congress veteran Mani Shankar Aiyar that contributed to his party's decimation in a big way in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014.
Modi and his party's national president Amit Shah have been eyeing the tea tribe communities in the north-eastern state as they have a substantial role to play in the state elections.
BJP eyeing to replicate 2014 results in tea-tribe zones
The BJP top brass is aiming for the tea tribes' votes all the more since the saffron party had done well among those communities which are traditionally bastions of the Congress. Experts had said then if the BJP continued to have this advantage among the marginalised tea communities, then the Congress's chances of returning to power for the fourth consecutive term would be very less.
In the 2011 Assembly elections, the BJP had won only one of the 35 seats where the tea tribes are a significant factor. But the scenario was turned around in the 2014 general elections as the BJP polled the maximum votes in 26 Assembly segments where the tea tribes are a deciding factor.
Teli and Tasa---BJP's trump cards in this election?
Modi and Shah look to build on that platform and the party is banking heavily on Rameswar Teli and Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, the two MPs who represent these marginalised communities. The party has even fielded Tasa against Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi from Titabor seat.
Earlier this year, HRD Minister Smriti Irani had announced that 14 Navodayas will be set up in Assam mainly to support the education of the tea workers' children. Gogoi, in his turn, announced soon after that his government would set up a Tea Tribe Commission to contribute to an all-round development of the tea tribes.
He also said the government will set up a separate directorate for the education of teh tea tribe community to facilitate their educational and skill development.
The competition between the Congress and BJP over wooing the tea tribes will be a key aspect of this year's election in Assam as these tribes comprising current and former tea-garden workers make up about nearly 20 per cent of the state's total population.
The Congress, however, has a bigger problem in Gogoi himself. During the last general elections, the party was facing problems since most of its MLAs representing the tea tribes spoke up against the chief minister. The BJP, on the hand, rode the Modi wave and campaigned against the Congress's 'misrule' and the poor conditions of the tea tribe communities.
The BJP has been working on the same project in this election as well by focusing on the poor state of the state's tea workers on various socio-economic parameters.
Congress is also doing its bit to regain lost ground
The Congress is doing its best to regain the tea tribes' trust by promising Paban Singh Ghatowar, president of the biggest and oldest trade union of the country, as a likely successor to Gogoi and also trying to convince the tea tribes that the NDA government has stopped a big portion of additional quota of foodgrains for the tea industry needed to give subsidised ration to the tea garden staffers and that it is trying to negate the move through legal ways.
The results on May 16 will see whether the BJP's 2014 show was a fluke or the Congress has lost its traditional vote-base among the tea tribes permanently.