This January, when protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Assam had come to a head, and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had walked out of its alliance with the BJP, 21-year-old Wasif Osman thought that the regional party finally had a chance to redeem itself. “I had thought the AGP could become relevant again, that they would be able to win the masses,” he says. The Cotton College student, who will be voting for the first time in the upcoming General Elections, thought this was the time the binary tussle between the Congress and BJP could be forgotten, and a homegrown party, which had its roots in the struggle for Assam’s identity, could be back in the limelight.
However, barely two months later, with the Bill lapsed and the AGP joining BJP again, Osman is confused. “When the AGP saw that the Bill had lapsed, they joined the BJP again. Now I am confused,” he says.
On Tuesday night, the BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav announced that the party had tied up with the AGP and the Bodoland’s People Front (BPF) in Assam for the coming elections “to defeat the Congress”. Ever since the announcement, the Assamese have expressed their displeasure on various social media forums, calling out AGP and their leaders, Atul Bora and Keshav Mahanta for betraying the Assamese.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8, and subsequently lapsed in the Rajya Sabha in February, seeks to relax citizenship application processes for non-Muslim minority communities from three neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Bill caused an uproar among entire Northeast, especially Assam, where the NRC — undergoing updation— aims at identifying the illegal immigrants who came into the state post-1971. For the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) — which the AGP was born out of in 1985 — the Bill contradicted the purpose of NRC, and was a threat to Assamese culture and language.
“We had hoped that the AGP would break the alliance and strengthen regional committees, but what they did was just hurt the sentiments of the Assamese people. They were aware that they were not strong enough to contest alone, so they took this step and allied with the BJP again,” says Debarundeep Dutta, who is affiliated to the regional chapter of the AASU in Sivasagar district. In the 2014 elections, the AGP did not win any of the seats when it had contested alone. However, in the 2016 Assembly elections, it partnered with the BJP and won 14 seats. The BJP won 61 and its other ally, the BPF won 12.
Duke Mahanta, 26, from Gohpur, terms this entire development as a “betrayal”. “The whole Bill incident had made BJP very unpopular. For the first time, the youth was out on the streets, charged up and motivated. AGP had a real chance and gave us hope. They could have become relevant again. Ultimately, I do not think it is the BJP or the Congress who has cheated us, it is AGP who has cheated us the most.”
The AGP decision has led two from their party to resign. On Wednesday, Hemen Borah, legal advisor of the party, as well as senior party leader Lachit Bordoloo, announced their decision to quit the “opportunistic” AGP.
The anger is most apparent on Twitter and Facebook where many people have posted updates calling the party “spineless” and “greedy”. Cartoonist Nituparna Rajbongshi, whose cartoons had gained quite a bit of attention during the Bill row, has created one more to represent how the AGP has been “sold” to the BJP.
“Their true character has come out,” says Bijoy Panang, 26, of Sivasagar, “What had happened so far was all a naatok (drama),” he says, “But a part of me hopes that maybe remaining in the alliance will mean the regional voices still have a chance to be heard.”
Anindita Roy, 21, of Handique Girls’ College, Guwahati, agrees. She had taken part in the protests against the Bill when the issue was at its peak. “They might have taken this step out of greed. Things like this happen in politics. Now the Bill issue has cooled down, no one is really bothered about it anymore. The real issues are roads, jobs and development. Those are the things I care about,” she says.