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Another BJP ally upset: AGP threatens pullout if Citizenship Bill is passed

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 14 May 2018, 19:15 IST
(Arya Sharma)

Fissures have emerged between the BJP and its ally Asom Gana Parsihad (AGP) in Assam over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, which aims to provide citizenship to religious minorities from neighbouring countries. The tensions between the two parties have escalated to the extent that the AGP has threatened to walk out of the alliance with the BJP if the Centre gives it nod to the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Bill that will grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis staying in the state.

Speaking to Catch, AGP leader Kamala Kant Kalita said that the moment the Bill is passed in the Parlaiment, they will sever all ties with the BJP. “We have to respect the sentiments of the people of Assam and the alliance will not continue if BJP continues to support the controversial Bill which is being opposed by the people of Assam.”

Kalita said that according to the Assam Accord, the state accepted foreigners who migrated to India from Bangladesh before 1971 and that the sentiment in the state is that no more foreigners should be given citizenship irrespective of their religion.

“It is BJP's responsibility to detect and deport all Bangladeshis who have settled here after 1971. So many of them, came here before 1971 and we accepted a lot of them but it won't happen anymore,” Kalita added. He claimed that such an amendment would alter the population pattern of the state which is a direct threat to the Assam's language and culture.

Kalita pointed, “If we Assamese forget about our language, tradition and culture then what happens to the existence of the state. Such a move would further fragment the state and the possibility of another state being carved out of Assam cannot be ruled out. We have asked the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to “save Assam and in turn Save India”.

Moreover, AGP president Atul Bora, who is the agriculture minister in the state government, has threatened to resign if the central government continues to support the contentious Bill.

Meanwhile, Assam BJP President, Ranjit Kumar Das said that these threats should not be taken seriously and that the AGP just want to create unnecessary ruckus by raising this issue. According to Das, the AGP is creating panic amongst the people of Assam and that there is nothing in the Bill that will go against the people of Assam.

“I am certain that the AGP won't quit the alliance. Where else will they go? I don't know why they are doing this. If they do quit the alliance, they would be totally powerless and without an option. Is this even a reason to quit? They will be at loss if they do it,” he said. Das went on to add that even if AGP quits, it will not make any difference to the government. However, he did add that the final decision would be taken by the central leadership.

What should worry the BJP leadership is how the passage of the Bill could create chaos in the state considering how hundreds of people came out to protest against the Bill when JPC team visited Guwahati and Silchar earlier this week for a three day visit. The JPC, headed by BJP MP Rajendra Agarwal, met several outfits in Guwahati and Silchar.

Protests broke out in various parts of the state over the proposed amendment to the Bill with other political parties, including Congress and AIUDF, also joining other groups over their opposition to the
proposed amendment. Assam Pradesh Congress has made its stand very clear and claimed that the Bill will violate the Constitution of India and nullify the Assam Accord.

The Bill proposes to change citizenship laws to allow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Christians and Jains, who are a minority in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship.

AIUDF's Karimganj MP Radheshyam Biswas wrote to the chairman of the JPC and claimed that the enactment of the Bill leading to depriving citizens of some specific religion citizenship is a clear violation of the Article 14 of the Constitution.

The AGP too had submitted a memorandum to the JPC wherein they claimed, “...in the Preamble of the Constitution, India is declared as a Secular Socialist Democratic Republic. Ason Gana Parishad as a political party unequivocally believe in the secular, socialist, democratic character of our republic and support and believe that all the Laws and Acts of the nation must reflect, both in Letter and Spirit, these lofty ideals. The Bill proposing the Amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955, violates these ideals by segregating the citizens into religious sects. Hence, we oppose Bill and demand that the same is withdrawn immediately.”

Moreover, deep divisions have emerged between those living in the Brahmputra valley and the Barak Valley. IN fact, the JPC met representatives of 315 organisations with most of them supporting the Bill. While those living in the Brahmaputra valley are opposing the Bill, the people of Barak valley have welcomed the central government's initiatives which is likely to create tensions in the days to come.

Interestingly, BJP's ally and Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma has categorically denied giving any support to the Bill and even the state assembly has unanimously decided to oppose it. Assam leaders, particularly those from AGP, are urging Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to follow Conrad's steps.

First published: 14 May 2018, 19:15 IST