Indigenous Voters, Mission 20 and Congress-free Northeast: Why BJP Left 3 Seats for AGP in Assam
The alliance was considered as a key strategy to keep its key voters, the indigenous Assamese voters who were fuming over BJP bringing in the Citizenship Bill, intact.
File photo of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Guwahati: All the BJP heavyweights in the state of Assam including chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma are busy campaigning for their ally, the regional party of Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland Peoples’ Front. Organising party meetings and addressing public rallies, the BJP leaders have asked all its party workers, supporters and voters to make absolute efforts to make their ally parties’ candidates win this election. The reasons are simple — to fulfil BJP’s mission 20 in Northeast and to oust its prime opponent Congress from the region.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal asserted, “The ruling alliance of BJP-AGP-BPF will win 12 out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam. In the entire northeast, the BJP and its ally parties under North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) will win 20 seats. Congress will fail miserably.” In the Northeastern region, there are 25 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs. After winning the Assam state polls in 2016, the BJP floated the NEDA with the regional parties of the northeast states aiming to make the region Congress-free.
At a party meeting in Barpeta, Sonowal asked his workers to struggle with a dedication to make the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance click in the elections. Its ally AGP is fighting from the Barpeta constituency. Earlier on Saturday, Sarma who is also the NEDA convenor campaigned for AGP candidate from Kaliabor seat, Moni Madhab Mahanta too.
But it’s not too long ago when the Assam BJP was not in favour of reviving its alliance with the AGP after the latter snapped its ties with the ruling party over its disagreement on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB). In January, the AGP walked out of the coalition government stating that the CAB would violate the Assam Accord of 1985 which aimed at detecting and deporting illegal immigrants. Though the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, it wasn’t tabled in the Rajya Sabha in the last session before polls. Later, the AGP agreed to renew its ties with the BJP on a seat-sharing condition of three Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha seat. Thus, the AGP will be fighting from three parliamentary seats of Dhubri, Barpeta and Kaliabor.
Party insiders in the saffron party said that primarily two issues outweighed the BJP’s previous position of fighting election alone and for reviving the alliance. Sources said that the BJP wanted to ensure that the party doesn’t lose its ‘key voters’ without the alliance especially with the presence of a strong anti-BJP wave in the state during the statewide anti CAB movement. The alliance was considered as a key strategy to keep its key voters, the indigenous Assamese voters who were fuming over BJP for bringing in the Bill, intact.
BJP state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass said, “Prior to the alliance, BJP was eyeing at 10 seats but after the alliance, now we are confident of winning at least 12 seats in Assam.”
According to party sources, the other reason behind renewing of the alliance with AGP was to overcome the challenges in at least three parliamentary seats of Kaliabor, Barpeta and Dhubri where the saffron party doesn’t have a strong base. While both Dhubri and Barpeta are minority-dominated constituencies represented MPs from the Badruddin Ajmal led All India United Democratic Front, Kaliabor that spans over central and upper Assam districts has been with the Congress. BJP believes that the AGP candidates would help check the Congress and the AIUDF from reaping the benefits of division of votes. There is a substantial population of Assamese Muslims in these three seats and they have traditionally been the AGP's voters.
“The alliance will be beneficial to both the BJP and the AGP. Stopping the split of votes is one of the greatest benefits that we are going to reap from the alliance and to check the Congress at all the constituencies,” BJP spokesperson, Swapnanil Baruah said.
Out of the state’s 14 seats in Assam, BJP is contesting from the 10 seats of Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Lakhimpur, Nagaon, Guwahati, Diphu, Mongoldoi, Silchar and Karimganj. While the AGP is fighting from Kaliabor, Dhubri and Barpeta, the BPF is in the fight for Kokrajhar seat reserved for Schedule Tribe. In last 2014 Lok Sabha polls, AGP fought alone in 12 parliamentary seats but drew a blank. BPF too lost to an Independent candidate.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav said, “The AGP, BPF and BJP joined hands in 2016 state polls and the alliance did wonders. This time, too, we have decided to jointly fight the Lok Sabha election and oust the Congress in all the Lok Sabha seats.”
Adding further, Madhav said, “NEDA will win 20 seats in the northeast region. Though some parties of the alliance are fighting the polls separately on strategic and local issues, all will come together after the polls. All of our aim is to bring Narendra Modi back as the Prime Minister of the country and to make this region Congress mukt.”
Besides 14 in Assam, there are two parliamentary seats each in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura and one each in Sikkim, Nagaland and Mizoram. NEDA constituent National People’s Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram and in Tripura- the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) have announced to fight the Lok Sabha polls alone.
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