Two months after severing ties with the BJP in the wake of widespread protests against the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) announced Wednesday that it will contest the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the BJP.
Protests across the region had cast a shadow on the NDA’s prospects in the North-East but with the AGP back in the NDA fold and election pacts finalised with the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) in Assam, Nagaland’s ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and Meghalaya’s National People’s Party (NPP), the BJP hopes to regain its momentum in the region.
In 2014, across Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, the BJP won eight of the total 25 LS seats.
“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a matter of past. I don’t think it will affect the BJP’s prospects in the North-East. The elections will be fought on development as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unleashed unprecedented development schemes in the region,” Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam Deputy Chief Minister, who plays a significant role in scripting the party’s N-E strategy, told The Indian Express.
While the BJP and AGP are yet to finalise the seat-sharing arrangement, sources said the AGP is likely to contest three of the 14 seats in Assam. Sarma said that the details of seat sharing will be out on March 16 and that the three AGP ministers who had resigned from the Cabinet have rejoined the government.
“The BJP remains firm in our conviction regarding the CA Bill. The AGP has also reiterated their stand on the Bill. However, both the parties can resolve the issue through a process of consultation and consensus. We can resolve this issue by bringing more safeguards for the people of Assam in the CAB and we can go through detailed discussion to see how both parties’ views can reconcile, through a process of consensus and consultation. We will resolve all issues between the two parties and in future, there will be no more problems,” said Sarma.
AGP chief Atul Bora said the decision was taken after several discussions. “We fulfilled our commitment towards the people of Assam and that’s why the CA Bill is not there now,” he said. Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar told The Indian Express, “The AGP has proved that it is an opportunist party. They have no commitment towards the people of Assam… they are totally disregarding the Assam Accord. By forming this alliance, it has been proven that they support the CA Bill.”
According to Sarma, the BJP has finalised talks with Conrad Sharma’s NPP for seat sharing in Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. “There may be some friendly fights. But the understanding is final,” he said.
Asked how the party planned to overcome the public anger against the Citizenship Bill, Sarma said that the development in the region in the last five years would make people vote for the BJP.
Earlier, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav said in a Facebook post: “The BJP, NPP, NDPP, AGP and BPF will fight together in Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh with the mission of defeating Congress party at the hustings. In Tripura, the BJP will fight the elections together with IPFT (Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura), our alliance partner. In Sikkim, our alliance will be with SKM (Sikkim Krantikari Morcha), the main Opposition party.”
The gain in the N-E’s 25 Lok Sabha seats followed the party’s successful attempts in other key states including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar where it has managed to retain its allies despite some bickering and simmering discontent.
Madhav said that the NDA has emerged as a stronger coalition since the Opposition’s grand alliance still has not taken final shape. “While the Opposition is still talking and talking about Mahagatbandhan, we already have ours in place in the North-East and the rest of the country. The NDA is a much stronger coalition today than before,” he said.
Both Madhav and Sarma held discussions at Dimapur and Guwahati (Assam) with leaders like Nagaland Chief Minister N Rio and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma. BJP Chief Ministers Biren Singh (Manipur), Sarbananda Sonowal (Assam) and Pema Khandu (Arunachal Pradesh) were part of the discussions.
At a time when the Congress has launched an intense drive to regain its lost ground in the region, the BJP has initiated an aggressive campaign. After its electoral gains peaked in the Hindi heartland in 2014, the BJP shifted focus to the N-E, the south and the eastern states to compensate for possible losses in 2019.
Though the party scripted significant wins in elections held after 2014, and formed governments with allies in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Tripura, it has risked its momentum by pushing hard on the Citizenship Bill – which seeks to allow Hindu, Parsi, Christian, Jain, Buddhist or Sikh immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become Indian citizens if they arrive in the country before 2014.