Whichever way the Assam election results turn, its impact on the BJP is of considerable immediate relevance. And it's not to do with accomplishment of opening its account in the northeast but about the way the BJP will fight state elections from now on, according to the Economic Times report.
The question is whether to ride every campaign on PM Modi or not. This appeared a no brainer when BJP bagged Maharashtra and Haryana on the Modi magic, without projecting any local face.
The party followed it up by installing a Marathi Brahmin, not anyone from the dominant Maratha group, as Chief Minister and in Haryana it made a non-Jat RSS Pracharak as the CM. The message that went out was it didn't matter who was at the helm because the prime political force would remain Modi on whose name the votes actually fell. This was despite the fact that in both states the Congress governments had been in power for two terms or more.
This model, however, had its first setback in Delhi and then in Bihar, where the BJP ran a feverish campaign around Modi, staying away from projecting any local face. The PM himself held more than two dozen rallies, taking on both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad on his own steam. It didn't work.
Back in Delhi, more than the rout, the concern was around the long-term damage Bihar may have done to the national appeal of the Modi brand. Also, many within the BJP felt the PM was drawn into controversies that didn't help his larger cause at the Centre.
It was in this context that Assam was planned around a couple of key factors: first, the PM would be the star campaigner but not the fulcrum of the campaign and second, don't allow the Congress to nationalise the Assam election. Essentially, work hard to keep the fight strictly local.
So, what emerged was an anticampaign with the main thrust being Tarun Gogoi. Be it the anti-incumbency around his three-term government, his age or the factionalism that had erupted within the Congress symbolised by Hemanta Biswa Sarma's exit.
More importantly, Assam became the first state after Modi's 2014 triumph which BJP fought without Modi in the forefront. Yes, he loomed large in the background but in the front were what BJP sought to project as Ram and Lakshman — Sarbananda Sonwal and Sarma. The former would be the CM frontrunner but Sarma's utility was immense, which may still be helpful in case more numbers are needed. There was a conscious effort through throughout the campaign to snuff out anything the Congress could remotely exploit nationally to turn the campaign against the PM.