Will BJP’s Fresh Push for Citizenship Amendment Bill Hurt its Prospects in the 5 Assam Seats?

Photo for representation. (Image: PTI)

Photo for representation. (Image: PTI)

The BJP aims to use the Citizenship Amendment Bill to ask voters for another term, while its opposition parties—Congress and AIUDF —have alleged that the entire process has created fear among the minorities.

Nikita Vashisth
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New Delhi: Amid Rongali Bihu celebrations marking the Assamese New Year, voting for the second phase of Lok Sabha elections is taking place in five state constituencies today. Five candidates are contesting from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), five from the INC, four from All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), two from All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and one from All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). The rest are from other smaller parties.

A total of 50 candidates, including three women, 19 independents and seven others will contest from the constituencies Karimganj, Silchar, Mangaldoi, Nowgong and Autonomous district. Of the total 69,10,592 voters, 35,54,460 are male, 33,55,952 are female and 180 voters are in the third gender category.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured the first position in the state by winning seven seats and had a vote share of 36.51 per cent. The party won by an average margin of 6.89 per cent of votes.

The Congress won in three seats with a total vote share of 29.61 per cent. In the third place was AIUDF that won in three seats and had a vote share of 14.83 per cent. In 2014, all the five constituencies had a polling percentage of more than 75 per cent.

Earlier in 2009, the incumbent Congress had won in seven seats with a winning margin of 18.68 per cent votes, followed by the BJP that won in four.

In Karimganj, which is made up of Karimganj and Hailakandi districts, Muslims consist of close to 60 per cent of the population, as per the 2011 Census. Karimganj is also the reserved seat for members of the Scheduled Caste. Here, Radheshyam Biswas of the AIUDF will face Kripanath Mallah of the BJP and Congress leader Swarup Das. Biswas had won this Bengali-dominated seat in during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Cachar district, which forms the Silchar Lok Sabha constituency, has about 60 per cent Hindu population and 37 per cent Muslims. Congress leader Sushmita Dev, the sitting member of Parliament from Silchar, is re-contesting from here against BJP leader Rajdeep Roy Bengali.

The Nowgong Lok Sabha constituency has been held the BJP for the last 20 years. Rupak Sharma, who is fighting to retain the seat for the BJP, is pitted against Congress’s Pradyut Bordoloi. Mangaldoi is another constituency where the BJP won since 2004 and this year Dilip Saikia of its ally AGP is contesting the seat. Saikia is up against Congress candidate Bhubaneswar Kalita. Three-time MP and Congress leader Biren Singh Engti will aim to retain the Autonomous District seat which he won in the 2014 polls. He is fighting BJP candidate Harensingh Bey.

Apart from the BJP and Congress, an important party in the fray is Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). The party, however, faced a major blow earlier this week. On April 15, Bubul Das, former MLA from the Jagiroad assembly constituency, joined the INC in protest against the AGP-BJP alliance. His move came after AGP president Atul Bora, working president Keshab Mahanta and senior leader Phani Bhushan Choudhury joined chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s Cabinet after renewing their alliance with the BJP.

Strongly opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), Bubul Das stated, “The three top AGP leaders who said that ministerial berths could never be greater than the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, have diluted the party’s stand on the Bill by reverting to the BJP-led coalition and the state cabinet.”

According to provisions in the Bill, illegal immigrants who are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh will be eligible for Indian citizenship.

This, along with AGP founder Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s opposition to the CAB and ideological differences in the party, could impact the Nawgong seat negatively.

The BJP aims to use this Bill to ask their voters for another term to fulfill this mandate, while its opposition parties—Congress and All India United Democratic Front —have alleged that the entire process has created fear among the minorities.

The AGP, an ally of the BJP again, had opposed the Citizenship Bill from the beginning and demanded that all illegal immigrants, irrespective of their religion, be deported from the state.

For decades now, the issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has been a sensitive topic in Assam. Irrespective of the religion, the indigenous Assamese have had a strong anti-outsider sentiment for a long time. Important political players like the AGP and All Assam Students Union (AASU) have banked their politics on this agitation within the state.

Before the 2016 assembly elections in Assam, the BJP had in its poll campaigns made deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants a key issue. The party faced backlash from its opponents and critics because they perceived this as the party pushing forward its Hindutva ideology. This criticism gained further momentum after the CAB was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016 by the BJP-led NDA.

The AGP, although an important political party today, has not won in the state assembly since 1986. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it won none of the 14 seats in Assam. In the 2016 assembly elections, it managed a mere 14 out of 126 seats after a pre-poll alliance with the BJP.

In the state of Assam, the citizenship bill also clashes with the terms of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). This is guided by the terms of the Assam Accord of 1985, under which only those who could prove they or their ancestors entered India before March 24, 1971 would be considered citizens of the country. The significance of March 24, 1971 is that it marks the event of the Bangladesh war. The Accord says those who did not come under the criteria irrespective of religion would face deportation.

As the Citizenship Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, protests rose in the North eastern states, with almost all regional parties except the AGP distancing themselves from the BJP. In parts of Upper Assam, BJP’s own members were worried about the gaining votes.

In February, the Bill lapsed when it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha.

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