Guwahati: Former chief minister of Assam and founder of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Prafulla Kumar Mahanta on Thursday abstained from exercising his franchise during the second phase of Lok Sabha election in the state to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
The two-time chief minister represents the Barhampur constituency in the Assembly which falls under the Nagaon parliamentary seat. Mahanta’s move came despite an alliance of his party with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the general election.
Nagaon, which has at least seven candidates in fray, is likely to see a close contest between Congress’ Pradyut Bordoloi and BJP’s Rupak Sarma.
Mahanta said, “I didn’t cast my vote today as a protest against the bill, which is going create disaster in Assam. Though I had warned about its consequences to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as BJP chief Amit Shah, they have repeatedly talked about introducing the bill once voted back to power. They have challenged the people of the state.”
Earlier, the former chief minister stayed away from campaigning for his party after the AGP renewed its ties with the BJP despite its insistence on the controversial bill.
Vehemently opposing the bill since it was introduced by the BJP, Mahanta has been at the forefront of the anti-bill movement in the region.
In January, the regional party had walked out of the coalition government in Assam in protest against the bill, which it said would violate the Assam Accord of 1985 that aimed at detecting and deporting illegal immigrants.
“Once the bill is passed, the sacrifices of 855 martyrs of the Assam Agitation will go in vain,” Mahanta had said. However, in March, the party, led by Atul Bora, decided to bury its differences and go for a pre-poll alliance with the saffron camp.
The AGP was offered to contest from the three Lok Sabha seats of Dhubri, Barpeta and Kaliabor with support from the BJP. Similarly, the regional party is helping the BJP in other seats. However, the AGP president Atul Bora had said the party continued to oppose the bill.
Mahanta said the decision to reunite with the BJP was not taken collectively by the party, but by a handful leaders for the sake of power.
He said the tie-up was unjustified because the BJP had made it amply clear that it would table the bill in Parliament again.
On Thursday, Mahanta visited several areas in his constituency. “I have already appealed to people to vote against those who support the citizenship bill. I urged my supporters to cast ‘conscious’ votes,” he said.
Mahanta’s wife Jayashree also stay away from the polling exercise, though their daughter did cast her vote. “She is an adult now and smart enough to take her decision. It was my choice to abstain from voting,” he added.
Mahanta, who emerged as the strongest student leader during the six-year Assam Agitation (1979-1985) against illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh, became the chief minister in 1985.
He is also one of the signatories to the Assam Accord that was supposed to settle the demands of identification and deportation of illegal immigrants from Assam.
According to the document, anyone who has entered Assam after March 24, 1971, midnight, irrespective of his or her religion, would be considered a foreigner.
On the other hand, the citizenship bill seeks to ease out the method of granting permanent residence to migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who belong to six religious minorities — Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians.
Though passed in the Lok Sabha, it wasn’t tabled in the Rajya Sabha in the last session before the general election.
The bill triggered massive protests across the northeastern states where people apprehended mass exodus of Hindu Bengalis from Bangladesh into the region if enacted.
On Thursday, Assam’s five parliamentary seats — Nagaon, Mangaldoi, Silchar, Karimganj and Autonomous District went for the poll. At least 73.32 % voting was recorded in Assam during the day.