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'Common Enemy' BJP Brings Arch-Rivals Tarun Gogoi, Prafulla Mahanta Together at Citizenship Bill Protest

On Monday, despite repeated opposition by the AGP, a Joint Parliamentary Committee report on the contentious bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha, following which the AGP walked out of the BJP-led Assam government.

Pranjal Baruah | News18

Updated:January 8, 2019, 12:02 PM IST
'Common Enemy' BJP Brings Arch-Rivals Tarun Gogoi, Prafulla Mahanta Together at Citizenship Bill Protest
Former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi addresses the public.

Guwahati: Welcoming the Asom Gana Parishad’s decision to break off its alliance with the ruling BJP government, three-time chief minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi urged the AGP to set aside political differences and join hands “for the sake of the state”.

Gogoi was seen with political rival Prafulla Mahanta, two-time CM and AGP leader, on Monday, participating in the ‘Dhikkar Divas’ (Condemnation Day) held in the city to protest against the tabling of the bill. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 proposes granting Indian citizenship to religiously persecuted Hindus from Bangladesh.

“I welcome the AGP’s move to break the alliance with the BJP for the sake of the state’s welfare. It’s time that the AGP, Congress and others join hands for the greater Assamese community, leaving aside all our political differences. The saffron party has been trying to impose their ‘Hindutva’ ideology in the secular state of Assam and we should not allow it,” Gogoi said.

He accused the BJP of adopting the ideology of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “Like Jinnah wanted a country for Muslims and India was divided, the BJP wants to create a Hindu country. The nation is at risk. The bill will affect the state’s socio-economic and demographic pattern adversely,” Gogoi added.

On Monday, despite repeated opposition by the AGP, a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) report on the contentious bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha, following which the AGP walked out of the BJP-led Assam government.

Mahanta, a signatory to the Assam Accord of 1985 which had fixed March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date to detect illegal infiltrators in the state, said, “There is no point in remaining in the alliance. The BJP which came to power with promises of implementing the Assam Accord in letter and spirit has cheated the people of Assam.”

While the Assam Accord of 1985 doesn’t identify a foreigner based on their religion, but on the cut-off date of settlement in Assam, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 enables Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan entered India before December 31, 2014.

Though AGP’s walkout doesn’t threaten the stability of the Sarbananda Sonowal government, it may cost the BJP in upcoming Lok Sabha elections. In the House of 126, the BJP along with the AGP and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) had 86 seats — 60 belong to the BJP, 14 to AGP and 12 to the BPF. Without the AGP, the government’s majority comes down to 72, still more than the magic figure of 64.

The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) went ahead and asked all opposition parties to join forces against the bill.

KMSS leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi said, “It is time the BPF also walks out of the alliance and joins hands with the others to uproot this government. Assam doesn’t need someone who advocates illegal foreigners.”

In Delhi, a group of KMSS activists stripped down naked and protested in front of Parliament on Monday. “It only reflected the frustration that the people of the state are going through,” Akhil said.

Meanwhile, an 11-hour-long Northeast Bandh has been called on Tuesday by the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) and All Assam Students ’ Union (Aasu) to protest against the bill. AASU, which had refrained from calling for bandh for almost a decade now, appealed to the people of the region to support the strike. The Bandh will be in force from 5 am to 4 pm on Tuesday. Both KMSS and AGP have already extended support to the Bandh.

Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya, chief advisor of the NESO and AASU leader said, “AASU always opposed the bandh culture and it is very saddening that the student group has to call for one. But the government’s dictatorial act has forced us to take such a step. Our movement will not stop till the bill is withdrawn.”.

AASU has also rejected to send its representative to the nine-member high-level committee set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. As per the notification issued by the ministry on Sunday, retired IAS officer MP Bezbarauah will head the committee which will examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

It will also hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the required quantum of reservation of seats in the state Assembly and local bodies for the people of the state. The committee will also assess and make recommendations for safeguarding the legal and constitutional rights of the indigenous people of the state.

AGP president and state minister Atul Bora said, “Questions were asked why the AGP was still with the BJP when the latter was trying to bring in the Bilb. But AGP wanted to make all its effort to stop the bill till the last point. However, all our attempts to convince the Centre were overlooked only for the sake of vote-bank politics. We don’t want to be party to this betrayal and quit the alliance.”

Bora along with Keshab Mahanta and Phani Bhusan Choudhury were the three ministers from AGP in the Sonowal cabinet. Mahanta and Choudhury have also announced to resign from their portfolios.

Assam has been restive since Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a public rally in Silchar last week announced that the government will pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, soon as an ‘atonement’ for the wrongs done during Partition.

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