Nearly two months after it had walked out of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition in Assam over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2019, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on Tuesday night sealed an electoral alliance with the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls. However, the leaders of the two parties are not sounding confident if the desired chemistry would be created among their support bases to ensure vote transfer for correcting the poll arithmetic.
Senior BJP leader and Assam finance and health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma indicated that convincing grassroots workers to accept the tie-up would be a challenging task as the gap among workers of the two parties had widened over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and panchayat polls in the recent past. Both the parties decided that BJP state president Ranjit Kumar Dass and AGP president Atul Bora would address joint meeting of their workers across the state to bridge the gap.
Such apprehension appears to have stemmed from stiff opposition to revival of the alliance by a section of AGP leaders including former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta as well as by a section of grassroots workers of the regional party.
Mahanta alleged that he was kept in the dark about the meeting among the leaders of the two parties on revival of the poll tie-up. He opposed revival of the alliance of the ground the BJP national president Amit Shah had recently announced that if the BJP retains power at the Centre it would bring the bill again and the party would also include this promise in poll manifesto for Lok Sabha polls. The bill passed by Lok Sabha 8 January lapsed after the Modi government failed to pass it in the Rajya Sabha.
Both Sarma and Bora told journalists that differences over the CAB would be resolved through the process of discussion, consultation and consensus. Sarma ruled out reviewing the BJP’s stand on citizenship amendment bill but added that as the AGP also has its own stand on the bill both the parties would try to reach a consensus.
The alliance was sealed during a meeting between an AGP delegation led by its party president Atul Bora and BJP general secretary, in charge of party affairs in North East, Ram Madhav in Guwahati on Tuesday night. Madhav told journalists in presence of state BJP and the AGP leadership after the meeting that the alliance was sealed with the objective of defeating the Congress in the election.
Hours before the alliance was sealed, Sarma, who is also the convenor of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), maintained that grassroots workers of the BJP were not in favour of an alliance with the AGP as the gap between grassroots workers of the AGP and the BJP have widened after the two parties contested each other in the panchayat polls and the regional party deserted the coalition over CAB.
Sarma also said that reports of central BJP leadership seeking alliance with the AGP were only media creation and he was not aware of any such development. The senior BJP leader also said that there was no guarantee that that the AGP workers would extend help to BJP or BJP workers would help the AGP even if an alliance was sealed.
The number two in the Sonowal cabinet also went on record that during his recent visit to the state, Shah had not discussed any issue related to forging an alliance with the AGP either with him, Dass or Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Madhav said in presence of Sarma and the state BJP president that the details of seat sharing between the two parties would be worked out by state leadership and AGP leadership. The two parties are expected to arrive at the final seat sharing on 16 March and announced their respective list of candidates. Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) the third coalition partner will be contesting one seat and the rest 13 seats would be shared between the AGP and the BJP.
AGP has sought three of the total 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state and one of the two Rajya Sabha seats that will fall vacant soon. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won seven seats while the AGP drew a blank when the two parties did not have any electoral alliance. The Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) won three seats each while one seat was won by an independent candidate. The BPF also drew blank. The AGP-BJP-BPF sealed an electoral alliance in 2016 Assembly polls.
Mahanta found himself isolated within the AGP Legislature Party as barring him all legislators of the regional party called on Sonowal on Wednesday to formally convey the decision of the regional party of re-joining the coalition. Three ministers of the regional party, who quit the Sonowal cabinet after the AGP had snapped its ties with the BJP over the controversial bill, also withdrew their resignations and resumed their offices during the day. Apart from Bora, other two ministers were Keshav Mahanta and Phanibhushan Choudhury.
The founder AGP president insisted that decision to revive the alliance should have been first discussed in the general house of the party. When journalists asked him about the next course of action, Mahanta indicated that it would depend on how various district units of the party and grassroots workers respond to the development. Senior AGP leader and human rights activist Lachit Bordoloi, on the other hand, quit primary membership of the regional party to protest revival of the alliance with the BJP. He alleged, the AGP move only showed weakness of the party leadership. Former AGP minister Gunin Hazarika also flayed the AGP leadership for sealing alliance with the BJP despite the saffron party’s hardened stand on citizenship amendment bill. A section of AGP workers in different parts of the state also opposed the alliance.
Congress reaction to the revival of the AGP-BJP alliance indicated the opposition party would not let go waste the opportunity to make the bill a major poll plank, and rather rake it up to woo the opponents of the bill away from the ruling coalition. Assam and other northeastern states witnessed vigorous protest over the bill.
Leader of the Assam Congress Legislature Party Debabrata Saikia alleged that “The AGP had parted ways with the BJP in the state over the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB), but now the lure of power has prevailed over the responsibilities of the regional party. By joining hands with the BJP once again, the AGP has resorted to an unforgivable betrayal of the people of Assam.” He claimed that “the Congress has stayed true to the interests of the people of Assam by playing the pivotal role in thwarting the CAB in the Rajya Sabha and, thereby, safeguarding the interests and sentiments of the people of Assam and the North East.”
By reviving the alliance, the AGP has indicated at avoiding the contentious issue. Questions have been raised by opponents of the bill if the AGP has put the last nail on the coffin of regionalism in Assam to push the electoral choices in the state to the binary of Congress versus BJP.
All eyes would now be on the BJP if it would include its promise to bring a fresh bill on the line of the lapsed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in its manifesto for Lok Sabha polls as announced by Shah and how the AGP is going to respond to it.
The author is editor, nezine.com.
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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2019 12:42:46 IST