The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) finalised a pre-election understanding with the BJP late on Tuesday, barely two months after walking out of the parties’ alliance in the Assam government over differences regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav posted on Twitter: “After discussion, BJP and AGP have decided to work together in the coming Parliament election in Assam to defeat Congress. Announced it at Guwahati in [the] presence of Himanta Biswa Sarma of BJP and Atul Bora and Keshav Mahanta of AGP. BPF [Bodoland People’s Front] will be [the] 3rd partner in [the] alliance [.]”
Sarma, a senior Minister in the Assam government, subsequently tweeted: “Happy to inform ~ from today 3 AGP ministers who had submitted their resignations from Assam government will resume office. Also glad to share that @BJP4Assam #AGP & Bodoland People’s Front have sealed alliance for upcoming #LokSabhaElections2019.”
Trouble had been brewing in the AGP-BJP alliance due to the Citizenship Bill from long before their break-up was officially announced. In December 2018, the AGP had written to BJP president Amit Shah warning that it would walk out of the alliance if the Bill was passed in Parliament. That same month, the AGP contested the panchayat elections on its own, and BJP leaders sharply attacked the AGP during campaign speeches.
The Bill, which was passed by Lok Sabha on January 8 and triggered massive outrage across the Northeast, aims to make non-Muslim minority immigrants from three neighbouring countries, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship via comparatively relaxed norms.
As per the Assam Accord of 1985, any person who entered Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, will be identified as a foreigner. The AGP said that the Bill posed a threat to the indigenous people of Assam, and violated the basic principles of the Assam Accord.
The Bill lapsed after it was not tabled in Rajya Sabha. However, days later, on February 17, BJP president Amit Shah told a rally in Assam that the party “will again bring the Bill”. BJP leaders in Assam maintained that the party’s ideological commitment towards bringing the Bill remained intact.
Despite the AGP having returned to the BJP, it remains to be seen how the two parties bridge their differences on the Citizenship Bill — and how the AGP justifies to the people its move to ally with the BJP despite the party having said that it was not abandoning the Bill. That said, the alliance will surely benefit the BJP by ensuring that the non-Congress vote is not divided.
The AGP has its roots in the Assam Movement, the six-year-long anti-foreigner movement that led to the signing of the historic Assam Accord by the leaders of the agitation with the Rajiv Gandhi government.
In the 2016 elections to the 126-member Assam Assembly, the BJP and AGP had together won 75 seats (the BJP 61, AGP 14), with ally Bodoland People’s Front picking up another 12. The BJP and AGP had come together with the agenda of overthrowing the Congress government.
The AGP had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on its own. It got around 4% of the vote, and failed to win even one of the state’s 14 seats. The BJP got around 37% of the vote, and won seven seats. Badruddin Ajmal’s AIDUF and the Congress won three seats each, and an Independent won one.
The AGP and BJP had fought the 2009 elections together, and won one and four seats respectively.