New Delhi: Even as BJP leaders in the northeast welcomed party chief Amit Shah’s claim that the saffron party would make substantial gains in the region, opposition leaders have pointed out that the controversial citizenship amendment bill could impede its Lok Sabha poll prospects.
Speaking to CNN News18 on Sunday, Shah said the BJP was looking to bag 20-21 seats in the region.
When asked about the citizenship bill, which has caused a lot of unrest in the region, Shah said, “Through the work that we have done through NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance, the BJP’s nodal outfit for the region), we are sure of substantially increasing our tally in the northeast.”
He said this was visible in the last Assam local body election where the BJP managed to get 67% vote share.
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said, “Whatever Shah has said is absolutely true. Assam has significantly benefited under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and we desperately want him to lead the nation again.”
NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “I can assure you the numbers will be 19, 20 or 21 and not less than that. Shah has felt the pulse and made a rightful statement.”
However, senior Congress leader and former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has called Shah and Modi frustrated. He said, “The two BJP leaders used to call themselves ‘chaiwala’ (tea-seller) and now, they are saying they are ‘chowkidar’ (watchmen). They are going to lose in the Hindi belt where the percentage of Hindu voters is much more. Hence, they are now misleading Assamese people. I bet the number of seats the BJP won last time, would not increase this time.”
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party had won eight of the 24 seats in the region.
Assam Congress leader Kishor Bhatta said, “Ever since the BJP passed the citizenship bill in the Lok Sabha, it has lost the people’s trust. Ahead of the last general election, the saffron party had promised to wipe out illegal immigrants from our soil and after coming to power, it is only trying to rehabilitate them in the name of the bill.”
While Congress leader and former Mizoram chief minister Lalthanhawla called the citizenship bill a dangerous one, which each and every person would fight against, the party’s working president in Meghalaya, James Lynghoh, said Shah wasn’t aware of the ground realities in the region.
Lynghoh said, “Let alone winning, the BJP doesn’t even have decent candidates for certain seats. Let Shah make whatever claims, the Congress will do better than everyone else in the northeast.”
Atul Bora, whose Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)’s had revolted against the ruling party over the bill, before joining hands again, said “Can’t say anything now. We have to wait till May 23. If Shah has said something, it must be on the basis of some data, which I am not aware of. However, we are expecting over 20 seats, though nothing is clear right now.”
NPP’s Silchar candidate Nazia Yasmin Mazumdar said, “Shah isn’t aware the entire region is against the bill. And, Sarma has been saying the BJP will pass the bill soon. So I don't think it has a very bring chance here.
The National People’s Party (NPP), led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, is also a constituent of BJP-led NEDA. However, the party has been vocal against the bill ever since it was introduced.
Senior BJP leader Ram Madhav had declared that NPP would fight the election with the saffron party, but Sangma has been separately fielding candidates in several seats across the region.
Recently, 20 BJP leaders, including two ministers, joined the NPP in Arunachal Pradesh.