As the divisive Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 has stirred a hornet’s nest across the Brahmaputra Valley, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is surprisingly seen as a “noiseless fence-sitter” amidst the political hullabaloo.
The AGP on May 12 started a state-wide campaign to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, and hopes to gather at least 5 million signatures and submit its memoranda to the Centre on June 1. It also threatened to wriggle out of the BJP-led coalition in Assam if the bill is passed as a law.
Though the party has started a low-key protest, people of Assam are still not convinced that the AGP is totally truthful with its pre-election commitment to protect the political rights of the indigenous population of the state.
It is natural for the people to doubt the seriousness of AGP on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill issue because it is still clinging on to the BJP and has threatened to leave only if the law is passed by the parliament.
The NDA government in Centre is all out to grant citizenship to the illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, which is a clear case of violation of the historic Assam Accord signed in 1985. As per the accord, any migrant after March 25, 1971 will be treated as “illegal”, and will be deported.
The AGP should have been the first to make the loudness noise against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill because the party was born after the six-year-long Assam Agitation against illegal migration from Bangladesh. Leaders of the All Assam Students’ Union and Asom Gana Sangram Parishad gave shape to the party.
The low-key protests against the serious political issue clearly show that the AGP, which was out of power since 2001, is not keen to leave the BJP-led coalition in Assam immediately. The party was in power twice in Assam – 1985 to 1989 and 1996 to 2001.
Despite the large-scale protests by the caste-Hindu Assamese on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the AGP still has the audacity to continue its bonhomie with the BJP in the state government. The wait-and-watch policy adopted by the party has given a clear “opportunist” tag to the party. At present, AGP has 14 legislators in the 126-member Assam Legislative Assembly, and has three cabinet ministers.
Atul Bora, who is also the president of the party, is Assam’s Agriculture and Town Planning minister. Bora was a president of the All Assam Students Union (AASU).
Keshav Mahanta, another ex-AASU president is the state’s Water Resources and Cultural Affairs minister. The party’s newly inducted minister is Phani Bhushan Choudhury.
As the party’s signature campaign began on Saturday at Dighalipukhuri in Guwahati, school and college students were found to be the main signatories. It showed that people of the capital city of Assam had lost their trust on AGP as the saviour of the Assamese society.
During the run up to the 2016 election, some of the power-hungry members of AGP had joined the BJP and are now important ministers in the Assam cabinet. Even Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was a member of the party and represented the AGP in Lok Sabha as an MP.
If people of Assam could get 14 members of AGP elected in the assembly in 2016, it will not take too long for the electorates to dump them. At the time when the BJP is seen as an intrusive Hindu force, the AGP should have stood steadfast to safeguard the political rights of the indigenous people.
Hobnobbing with the BJP will be suicidal for the AGP on the issue of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. At this crucial juncture, the AGP should immediately wriggle out of the government, and go back to the people and join the mass protests.
The bold decision to dump the BJP at this point can only help the AGP to lay a fresh foundation in the grassroots and brighten its electoral future. After all, if the BJP is dumped by the caste Hindu Assamese voters, the AGP can always be an alternative.
People of Assam have started to realise that the “change” in the form of registering victory of BJP against Tarun Gogoi-led Congress was a “wrong decision” as it took less than two years to start taking political decisions against the interest of the indigenous people of Assam.
If the AGP continues to cling on to the BJP on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, it will forever be known as betrayers to the people of Assam.