Guwahati: After the state’s ruling BJP government lost its major ally - Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) - the saffron camp is finding itself in a tough situation in northeastern states.
There is an ever-increasing resentment over the party’s decision to push the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, despite repeated objections by its political allies in the region.
Regional dark horse AGP and BJP’s coalition partner in Meghalaya, the Nationalist People’s Party (NPP), have called for a meeting of all the major non-BJP parties of the region to join hands against the bill in Guwahati on Tuesday.
Both the AGP and the NPP are part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) - a platform of non-Congress parties constituted by the BJP with the objective of making the region “Congress-mukt” (free of Congress Party rule).
The chief minister of Meghalaya and NPP leader Conrad Sangma; Mizoram chief minister and president of Mizo National Front (MNF) Zoramthanga and other political leaders from the states of Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim and Nagaland are likely to attend the meeting.
Leaders are convening to decide the future course of action over the controversial Bill as well as the fate of NEDA.
AGP president and former agriculture minister Atul Bora, who recently resigned from the Sarbananda Sonowal cabinet, told media, “Every political party in the region has realised the way the ruling party is trying to impose the Bill upon us, without the consent of the people of the region. This meeting will surely give a major momentum to the ongoing anti-CAB movement in the region.”
At the State Assembly on Monday, the AGP roared as a united opposition disrupted the house. Immediately after the Governor started his speech, the opposition members marched towards the well, holding placards to oppose the CAB and raised slogans like ‘Save Asom’, ‘Jao aai Axom’ inside the house.
AGP withdrew from the coalition government with the BJP in Assam after the saffron party went ahead with the controversial Bill in the Lok Sabha in the Winter Session.
Bora along with state’s water resources minister Keshab Mahanta and Assam food and civil supplies minister Phani Bhushan Choudhury have tendered their resignations already.
The AGP on Monday sat for a discussion with Janata Dal (United), NDA’s major ally in Bihar, in which the latter announced its intent to extend support to the anti-Bill campaign and vote against it if it is brought in the Raya Sabha.
“We are with the people of the northeast and despite being an ally with the ruling government in Bihar, our party and Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar has agreed to stand with the people of the region and join their movement from streets to the Parliament. We are going to vote against the Bill if it’s brought into the Rajya Sabha,” announced KC Tyagi, secretary general of JD (U) and MP Rajya Sabha.
The party vice-president Prashant Kishor is also likely to reach the state and join the proposed meeting on Tuesday. A JD(U) delegation has already met the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leaders and assured them of opposing the Bill which according to the party is ‘unconstitutional’.
The recent passing of the Bill in Lok Sabha has also added fuel to the fire for BJP allies in other states of the region. For Meghalaya Chief Minister Sangma, BJP’s move to table the Bill has put the ruling party in an awkward position.
“Our government has already cleared its stand before the Centre that we are against the bill. Now, it’s time to take a relook at our partnership with the BJP since they have moved ahead with the bill,” Sanga said. NPP is leading the six-party coalition government in Meghalaya where BJP is also a member.
Sangma and Zoramthanga along with a delegation of seven NEDA members have recently met Home Minister Rajnath Singh and urged him to reconsider the party’s position on the Bill.
The Home Minister has assured that a meeting will be held comprising all Northeast leaders to discuss the Bill.
In Mizoram, the MNF which swept to power in the recently held assembly polls has already upped the ante against the Bill. MNF president and Mizoram CM, Zoramthanga has recently said that the state government and his party are not hesitant to pull out of the BJP-led NEDA.
“The government is vehemently opposed to the passing of the Bill. We are not hesitant to spearhead agitation against the Bill, and also pull out of NEDA if necessary,” Zoramthanga said.
The People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) government in Nagaland, that comprises the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and BJP has asked the centre to re-examine the Bill to ensure that it doesn’t violate the provisions enshrined in the Indian Constitution related to customary practices of Naga community.
In another development from the region, an all political party meeting convened by the Manipur government on Monday failed to adopt a decision to withdraw the CAB and convene a special state assembly session to discuss the statute.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh after the meeting decided to send an all-party delegation to New Delhi and urge the central leaders to exclude Manipur from the jurisdiction of CAB.
The core committee of the newly set up Manipur Peoples Against CAB has called for a 24-hour state-wide general strike from Wednesday midnight. The body comprises 66 prominent civil bodies of both hill and valley.
But according to Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma who is also the convener of NEDA, the growing dissidence will not impact the party’s fate in upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Sarma said, “Mizoram government has always been against granting citizenship to Chakma community people who are Buddhist. Since the Bill is going to grant citizenship to Buddhist, their resentments are not new. Similarly, Meghalaya which considers itself as a Christian dominated state is against the Bill. I’m sure it’s not going to impact in any future political calculation in the region.”
Meanwhile, leader of the opposition in Assam, Congress leader Debobrata Saikia has shot a letter to all the MPs in Rajya Sabha to join hands against the Bill.
In the letter, Saikia said, “The danger is not yet over as the NDA government looks set to try and get the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha in the next session, which will be the last sitting before the General Elections. Since the future of the indigenous people of the northeast is at stake, we must rise above party politics and take a united stand against the CAB. I would, therefore, personally like to earnestly request you all to join hands and prevent the Bill from becoming an act during the next session of the House of Elders.”
Passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, the CAB is yet to be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.
However, for AGP and JD (U), the Congress’s position over the CAB is still sceptical. “Like the Congress had walked out of the Lok Sabha and helped the bill to be passed, we would like to ask the Congress to prove its stand and vote against the Bill in Rajya Sabha and not to walk out of the house. If they (Congress MPs) continue to walk out, the people of the region will have no doubt that it supports the Bill,” said Atul Bora and KC Tyagi in a chorus.
The opposition parties, students’ bodies and the civil society across the region are protesting against the Bill, claiming it will change the region’s demography and violate the historic 1985 Assam Accord. The Bill seeks to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.