BJP's campaign over the last 12 months was a political masterclass. Inspite of its historically lukewarm relationship with the Muslim community, the party and its allies won comfortably in a state that has the second-most Muslims (as a proportion of total population).
The party suffered tremendously in the 2015 Assembly Elections, when it misguidedly focused on national issues (instead of local issues) as well as 'Hindutva' issues like beef. But in Assam, it reverted back to the well-oiled, on-point political machine it was in the 2014 General Elections. As it addressed an electorate that was tired of terrorism , lack of development, and illegal immigration, it largely steered clear of Hindutva issues.
Making Strategic Alliances
BJP also made strategic alliances with the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland's People Front. These parties are viewed as "sons of the soil", which helped the BJP compete in areas where locals are less trustful of Hindi-speaking "outsiders". Moreover, both these parties had squeaky clean candidates. According to MyNeta , none of these candidates had any serious police charges against them. This was a major boost for an electorate - especially in rural and tribal areas, where BJP's allies competed in their stead - that has been fatigued by relentless violence over the last few years.
Because the BJP, AGP and BOPF rarely ran in the same constituency, they became the de-facto choice for voters who had become sick of the AIUDF and the Congress. As a result, all three of these parties had exceptionally high win-rates in the constituencies in which they competed.
Splitting the opposition
Since AIUDF and the Congress decided not to form an alliance, the BJP was able to win some seats even in Muslim dominated regions. For instance, one would not expect the BJP to win any seats in the district of Karimganj, which has more than 56% Muslims (as per the 2011 Census). Yet the BJP won 2 out of 5 seats that were available in Karimganj, because the Congress and the AIUDF ate into each other's vote share.
|Constituency||AIUDF Votes||BJP Votes||INC Votes||Winner|
The situation above was representative of many other constituencies in the state, where the BJP won seats that it would not have won if there was a united opposition. By bringing both major alternatives to the Congress and AIUDF on it's side, the party ensured that it could capitalize on the anti-incumbency factor even in some Muslim dominated constituencies.
Underplaying the Modi factor
PM Modi was a subdued figure in Assam, where local leader Sarbananda Sonowal hogged most of the limelight. Moreover, instead of focusing on pan-India issues - which Modi has a tendency to do - BJP ran a campaign that focused on curbing illegal immigration from Bangladesh and reducing unemployment in Assam. This helped the party change its image as the party of Hindi speaking upper-caste Hindus, and instead helped project it as a party for change and development that had strong local leaders.
This newfound strategy has a huge boost for the party in Assam, and it could have done benefited from more of the same in Kerala (where Modi's aggressive rhetoric ruffled more than a few local weathers). It will be interesting to see whether the BJP follows a similar template for subsequent elections.