The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) walked out of the alliance with the BJP in Assam Monday over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, after failing to convince the BJP that the Bill is a “threat” to the state and is considered to be against the basic principles of the 1985 Assam Accord.
In the 126-member Assam Assembly, the ruling alliance comprised the BJP (61), the Bodoland People’s Front (13 seats) and the AGP (14 seats). The Congress and AIUDF have 25 and 13 members. The AGP also had three Cabinet ministers — party president Atul Bora, Keshab Mahanta and Phani Bhusan Choudhury.
Bora announced the decision to quit the alliance in Delhi after top leaders met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh earlier in the day. “We tried to convince the Centre that the Bill is against the Assam Accord and will nullify the ongoing updating of the National Register of Citizens. But, Rajnathji told us categorically that it will be passed in the Lok Sabha tomorrow (the last day of the winter session of Parliament). After this, there is no question of the AGP remaining in the alliance,” he said.
At a gathering in Tinsukia, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said: “As long as we are at the helm, we won’t push the community to uncertainty. We have responsibility. We are committed to the interests of the indigenous people. To protect the community is our responsibility and we will fulfil it with sincerity…I am a son of the soil and I will not allow the Assamese people to get marginalised in their own place.”
The AGP is the fourth to part company with the BJP. While the Telugu Desam Party left the NDA in March last year, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leader and Union Minister of State Upendra Kushwaha quit last month. In July, the BJP had pulled out of the alliance in J&K with the PDP and the Shiv Sena has already publicly declared that it will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls alone.
Speaking in Silchar on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said he hoped the Bill would be passed soon and called it “atonement” of the mistakes of Partition. The next day, the powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and 30 other organisations called for a state-wide bandh Tuesday to protest against the scheduled tabling of the Bill.
On Monday, Assam witnessed public protests and demonstrations by civil society groups and AASU against the Bill and in Guwahati black flags were raised against the NDA government.
Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone, AGP leader Ramendra Kalita said, “The alliance has broken. We met Home Minister Rajnath Singh today and again tried convincing him how serious a threat the Bill poses to Assamese society and culture. We urged him to stop the Bill from being tabled in Parliament in any way but he said it was not possible.”
“Breaking the alliance if the Bill is passed is a commitment we had made to the people of Assam. We have kept our promise,” he said, ruling out any possibility of a tie-up with the Congress at this stage.
Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta said that the decision to walk out of the alliance was in line with AGP’s stand — that the alliance would break if the BJP goes ahead with the Bill.
Last month, after repeatedly expressing its displeasure at the BJP over the Bill, the AGP wrote to BJP president Amit Shah on Monday stating that it will walk out of the alliance if the “obnoxious” Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, is “intended to be passed” in Parliament.
The Bill proposes to make non-Muslim minority immigrants from three neighbouring countries, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship. As per the 1985 Assam Accord, any person who entered Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, will be identified as a foreigner.