AGP, BJP in Assam seem to be willing to reunite but Citizenship Amendment Bill remains a fly in the ointment

After a brief display of mutual bitterness, the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam seem to be willing to reunite.

Kangkan Acharyya March 08, 2019 16:57:20 IST
AGP, BJP in Assam seem to be willing to reunite but Citizenship Amendment Bill remains a fly in the ointment
  • As per sources, both the parties are involved in backdoor negotiations to strike a seat-sharing deal.

  • AGP severed its ties with the ruling party in January, opposing the BJP’s move to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

  • Sources in the AGP say that the party is bargaining for at least three parliamentary seats out of 14 in the state.

After a brief display of mutual bitterness, the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam seem to be willing to reunite. But the issue of Citizenship Amendment Bill still standsb as a hindrance.

As per sources, both the parties are involved in backdoor negotiations to strike a seat-sharing deal since both the parties share a common voter base. Disagreement over the proposed legislation is keeping them tight lipped about the talks.

“The subject of alliance is yet under consideration. So far, we have not received any proposal from BJP formally. Nothing can be said as of now,” Keshab Mahanta, an AGP MLA and former minister, told Firstpost.

Recently, the AGP formed a committee to decide upon the party’s election strategy. Mahanta is one of the members in it.

“The committee would decide on the issue of alliance,” he added.

AGP BJP in Assam seem to be willing to reunite but Citizenship Amendment Bill remains a fly in the ointment

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal along with senior BJP leaders Ram Madhav (right), Mahendra Singh and Himanta Biswa Sarma. PTI

Significantly, AGP was an integral part in the BJP-led rainbow alliance in Assam, which registered a landslide victory in the 2016 Assembly polls.

The regional party severed its ties with the ruling party in January, opposing the BJP’s move to pass the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in the Parliament.

The bill proposed to grant citizenship to six minority communities namely Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi and Jain living in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The move to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants ignited protests across the north-eastern region, as some claimed it defied the Assam Accord signed between the then leadership of All Assam Students Union and the Government of India in 1985. The accord mandates detection and deportation of illegal immigrants who infiltrated into Assam after 1971.

The AGP withdrew from the alliance with the BJP two months back over a tiff with the latter over its move to accept the bill.

The BJP finally refrained itself from tabling the bill in the Rajya Sabha, after facing the Heat from its allies in the North East, allowing it to be lapsed. Since then, tension in the region has eased out and the issue disappeared from public discourse.

“But a good number of AGP cadres are still against any alliance with the BJP because of its move of tabling and getting the bill passed in the Lok Sabha,” Nurul Islam, a former AGP MLA, told Firstpost.

On Thursday, a group of AGP workers led by a person named Mantu Dutta locked the gates of the party head office at Ambari in Guwahati for 30 minutes in protest of its move to ally with the BJP again.

“I am against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. It angered me when I got to know that the AGP, which broke the alliance with BJP over the Bill, is now again thinking of an alliance with the saffron party. In a fit of rage, I locked the gate,” he told the media.

Though the BJP did not table the bill in the Rajya Sabha, party chief Amit Shah in a recent rally in Assam advocated for it again, which seems to have irked some of the regional party’s leaders and workers.

“What if the BJP gives asks us not to speak against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the future as a condition of the alliance? It is not a cakewalk any more. Our leadership is keenly analysing the pros and cons of a possible alliance,” said Balendra Kumar Bharali, another leader in the party.

No wonder both BJP and AGP leaders have chosen not to speak publicly on the issue.

Recently, it was reported in the media that in a meeting held between both the parties, the saffron party offered two parliamentary seats namely Barpeta and Kaliabor to the AGP as a seat-sharing agreement.

Sources in the AGP say that the party is bargaining for at least three parliamentary seats out of 14 in the state.

However, Mahanta denied that any such meeting took place between the parties.

Sources in the BJP say that many in the state unit of the saffron party are not inclined towards any alliance with the AGP, as they are confident of winning most of the seats without using AGP as a prop, but they think that the central leadership of the BJP may not want to take any chances.

“The AGP hardly has any political weight left in it. It cannot win an election without an alliance with the BJP. In fact, the party has revived because of its alliance with the BJP. So, we do not require the AGP to win an election anymore,” a source in BJP told Firstpost.

In the 2006 Assam Assembly election, AGP bagged 24 seats, which decreased to 10 in 2011. But despite its weaning popularity, it managed to get the second-highest share of votes in 35 constituencies, which could be seen as a fear factor by BJP's central leadership.

Ranjit Das, president of the state unit of BJP, while speaking to Firstpost, said that even if an alliance is struck this time around with the AGP, support for the Citizenship Amendment Bill would certainly be a pre-condition.

“Neither have I received any proposal for alliance with the AGP nor has our central leadership informed me anything about such talks. But what if they break the alliance again over Citizenship Amendment Bill?” he said.

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