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With AGP's exit over Citizenship Amendment Bill, BJP's Hindutva policy may clash with Assam's 'jati, mati' in LS polls

After the Asom Gana Parishad resigned from the BJP-led coalition government in Assam on Monday, it's now confirmed that the two political ideologies — Assamese sub-nationalism and Hindu nationalism — are going to confront each other in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The fate of BJP’s dream in the northeastern region would depend on which of the two ideologies draw a bigger crowd to the polling centres in the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

The reason behind the end of the three-year-old relationship between the saffron party and the regional player is the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, proposed by the Centre in the lines of the ruling BJP’s Hindutva agenda.

 With AGPs exit over Citizenship Amendment Bill, BJPs Hindutva policy may clash with Assams jati, mati in LS polls

File image of BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma. PTI

The Bill, which would allow illegal Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh to avail citizenship in India, is seen in sharp contrast with the ideology of the AGP, a regional party formed in 1985 after the historic Assam agitation, vowing to free Assam from infiltrators from the neighbouring country irrespective of their religious affiliations.

Soon after the breaking of the alliance, AGP president Atul Bora said to media, "We have made our best efforts to convince the BJP leadership about the negative impact of the Bill and the stand of the people of Assam. But the BJP has decided to go ahead with the Bill leaving us with no option but to quit the alliance."

In fact, the AGP-BJP alliance in Assam had been on a rocking boat soon after the Centre proposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill in 2016.

“We have been increasingly facing pressure from the people at large to resign from the government. Had we not resigned, we would have been seen as traitors to the 'Assamese' cause," said Balendra Bharali, a senior leader in the AGP.

Though the breaking of the alliance is unlikely to pose any threat to the Sarbananda Sonowal-led state government, it would certainly have far-fetching ramifications in state politics in the near future.

The reason behind BJP’s success in 2016 Assembly polls in Assam was the party’s Hindutva ideology marrying Assamese sub-nationalism and agreeing to enter into a seat-sharing agreement with the AGP.

The Assamese sub-nationalism is caste and religion agnostic ideology, which takes pride in Assamese linguistic identity.

The AGP which embodies this ideology ushered this particular emotion into the state’s electoral politics in 1985. Since then, the Assamese sub-nationalism remains a powerful discourse in the state’s electoral politics.

The BJP’s success story in the 2016 Assembly polls was scripted by re-calibrating its Hindutva ideology to fit into the narrative already set by the Assamese sub-nationalism.

With the AGP facing leadership crisis from within, the BJP had been frequently using two Assamese words 'jati’ and ‘mati' in its campaigns. These two words, often used by Assamese sub-nationalist forces to evoke chauvinistic sentiment among the mainstream Assamese, refer to the indigenous people’s right over the land and local resources.

Not only have both the parties arrived at an ideological compromise, but also a seat-sharing agreement which resulted in the sharing of middle-class Assamese votes.

As per the agreement, the BJP had left 24 seats for the AGP, out of which AGP had won 14. On the other hand, the BJP had won 60 seats, hinging broadly on the AGP’s support base.

"Without the seat-sharing arrangement, the BJP would not have won such a large number of seats in Assamese-dominated constituencies. For both the BJP and the AGP have more or less the same constituency of voters and the division of votes would not have allowed this success," said a tribal leader unwilling to be named.

As a result of their campaign and arrangement, polling booths had seen massive voter turnout. The mainstream Assamese-dominated Gauhati East Constituency, that had witnessed a voter turnout of 56.45 percent during the 2011 Assembly Election, saw 79.21 percent voters reaching out to vote in 2016 Assembly polls.

The immigrant Muslim-dominated Janiya constituency saw 88.72 percent voter turnout crossing its earlier 83.86 percent mark.

The total voter turnout in the entire state increased by 12.34 percent as compared to the Assembly Election held in the year 2011.

The magic figure to form a government in Assam is 64. BJP with 60 of its legislators along with 12 in the Bodo People’s Front, an ally in the Bodo-dominated constituencies, still rests safely in power.

But the electoral politics for the saffron party is likely to change with the AGP’s exit.

Massive protests which have broken out across Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, recently, clearly show that the saffron party would no longer be entitled to the Assamese sub-nationalism narrative.

On the other hand, sans the alliance with the AGP, the vote-sharing arrangement with the AGP which led to the saffron party’s comfortable win in 2016 will also cease to exist.

In the light of this changing circumstances, the BJP is likely to switch to its hardline Hindutva narrative in Assam, which, till now, it had refrained from using in a pronounced manner in the state.

A preview of this emerging politics was seen at a press conference addressed by BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, where he evoked ‘Jinnah’ to support the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.

“People are concerned that we are trying to bring somebody, which is false. Without that Bill, we are surrendering to the philosophy of Jinnah,” he had said.

In a veiled reference to the increase in Muslim population in Assam and indicating that the said Bill is an attempt to correct the demographic imbalance int he state, Sarma said, "We cannot have detection and deportation to make Badruddin Ajmal (an MP from the AIUDF, which enjoys a large support among Bengal-origin Muslims in the state) the chief minister of Assam. If something leads us to make Ajmal the chief minister, then we will have to check that policy. If the Bill is not passed, 17 Assamese seats, which elect Assamese people, will go the Jinnah way.... We are trying to save Assam from Jinnah. We are not apologetic.... I am against Jinnah."

The fate of the BJP in the North East where it aims to win 21 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats will depend on which side of the ideological divide the voters in Assam swing.

In this ideological divide, almost all the parties including the Congress may find themselves on the same plank as the AGP, as most of them have already declared their opposition over the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

At present, the saffron party occupies seven out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, a major stakeholder state in the region.

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Updated Date: Jan 07, 2019 22:15:22 IST