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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Chance for Congress in Assam
Bodies of party workers
The campaign has been marred by separatist violence
By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

The ruling Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has been in power in Assam since 1996.

Current party strength
AGP-BJP 63 seats
Congress 34 seats
However, analysts say the party is unlikely to be able to hang on to office - despite a recent tie-up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Nevertheless, the alliance with the BJP could help it retain some votes as the BJP's share of the popular vote has sharply risen in the state over the past decade.

The BJP has made a dent in the AGP's support base amongst upper-caste Assamese Hindus, who blame the party for failing effectively to counter the infiltration of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh.

Migration issue

The BJP also enjoys the support of Bengali Hindu refugees who make up 13% of Assam's population.

Women supporters of AGP
The AGP is hoping to hold on to its vote
This group of voters is bitter at having been forced to leave former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Both parties are whipping up feelings over newer illegal migration from Bangladesh, and highlighting threats of a possible demographic change in the state.

Congress support

But the main opposition Congress party has a strong support base amongst the state's 28% Muslim population and the tea garden workers - another 14% of the population.

Analysts say only a high level of religious polarisation could bring the Bengali and Assamese Hindus together, giving the AGP-BJP alliance a slim chance of winning a majority.

The election is also taking place amid fresh attacks by the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa), most of which have been targeted at the BJP-AGP alliance.

Ulfa-backed violence has made it difficult for the alliance to mobilise its voters - giving yet another advantage to the Congress party.

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See also:

04 May 01 | South Asia
Six killed in Assam attack
15 Mar 01 | South Asia
Indian opposition capitalises on crisis
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal threatens Indian coalition
01 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
01 Mar 01 | South Asia
Timeline: India
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