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Citizenship Act: Loggerheads over Hindu Bangladeshis strains BJP-AGP ties in Assam

New Delhi: Proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill has caused a fault line in the BJP-led coalition government in Assam. Former chief minister of Assam and an MLA from the Asom Gana Parishad Prafulla Kumar Mahanta expressed his discontent over the bill's stand to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis those who have migrated to India facing religious persecution in Bangladesh. The AGP is also an ally of the ruling BJP in the state.

Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. PTI

Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. PTI

In a press meet on Monday, Mahanta said told the media that granting Hindu Bangladeshis citizenship could be suicidal, as reported by Asomia Pratidin a leading regional daily. He demanded the Centre to implement the Assam Accord in its entirety. Mahanta who was among the signatories of the Accord said that he and his party cannot accept the bill.

"The decision of the BJP-led government to bring non-Muslim Bangladeshis might have a terrible impact on the social structure of the state. Thus our party is strongly opposing the bill. Biraj Sharma and I are the two persons alive who signed the Assam Accord. Our party and we can hardly accept any decision which is against the accord," the former chief minister said as reported by The North East Today.

Mahanta said that contrary to the popular belief the neighbouring country is quite safe for the Hindus which he found out during a recent visit.

"Tripura and Bengal already cleared their stand none of them is in a position to accept the foreigner’s load. If they cannot accept the load why will Assam do that only for some political gain?" he asked.

The Congress is all set to take advantage of this rift. Party general secretary Mukul Sharma told Firstpost that the BJP is trying to cause communal tension in Assam, which is well understood by many along with Mahanta.

"BJP’s bid to grant Hindu Bangladeshis Indian citizenship will only damage the social fabric of communal harmony in Assam. Mahanta’s musings on the bill reflect the inner rifts within the government itself,” he said.

He further said that BJP and AGP allied to form a government but the NDA’s move to defy the Assam Accord held so dear by the AGP is a manifestation of BJP’s disrespect to its allies.

AGP spokesperson Manoj Saikia reiterated Mahanta’s stand and said that the party has demanded the BJP to implement the Assam Accord, which is an indirect way of saying that the regional party is opposed to the move of granting Hindu Bangladeshis Indian Citizenship.

"We have let the Centre and the state government know about our reservation on the bill. We hope that our demand will be paid heed to," he said.

When asked if his party is contemplating on withdrawing support from the BJP if in case its demand is not made, the spokesperson said that AGP is optimistic that its demand will be accepted and hence considering any another option is not justified at this moment.

Implementation of the Assam Accord has all along been the grand standing of the AGP. As per the accord, any person who infiltrated to Assam after 24 March 1971 would be considered a foreigner. But the new amendment in the Citizenship Act intends to grant citizenship of India to the Hindu Bangladeshis who infiltrated even after the cut-off date.

Analysts say that the BJP-AGP alliance in Assam is now trapped in a catch-22 situation over the Citizenship Bill, which is to be tabled in Parliament this winter session.

Sliding even a single step away from the agreements made in the Assam Accord, that was signed after historic the Assam Agitation on 14 August 1985, would mean political death for the AGP. Continued disagreement over the bill might prompt the party to withdraw support from the BJP-led alliance leading to political instability in the state.

In similar lines backtracking from the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act in order to save its alliance in Assam would be seen as a defeat for the BJP, as it has been one of the major planks in last general election.

Contrarily moving ahead with the amendment might lead to severance of ties with AGP.

The BJP can hardly afford to lose any of its allies in Assam, at a time when the party is raring to march ahead in North East with Assam as its model.

Analysts say that the only way out for both the parties from this situation is to carve an escape route out and continue to enjoy the present political stability. In a bid to maintain political stability the alliance is likely to take advantage of the growing demand to exempt Assam from the impact of the new amendment.

Some of the civil society organisations in Assam have been maintaining that rehabilitation of the Hindu Bangladeshis who would be granted fresh citizenship should not be done in Assam, if the Centre has to at all move ahead with the amendment of the Citizenship Act.

Naba Thakuria, of Patriotic People’s Front Assam, a civil society organisation that appeals for Assam’s exemption from the proposed bill told Firstpost, "Since Assam has already bore the pains to rehabilitate both Hindu and Muslim infiltrators who migrated to the state during the period starting from the year 1951 to 1971, we should not be imposed with further load of rehabilitation."

Updated Date: Nov 04, 2016 20:08 PM

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