The genesis of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) can be traced back to the signing of Assam Accord which was a culmination of the six year long Assam Agitation.
The Accord very clearly earmarked the deadline of March 25, 1971 after which no illegal immigrant will be given space in the State.
AGP became a part of the alliance which came to power in Assam in 2016 with a belief that this cut off date will be respected.
But the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 introduced by AGP’s ally – the BJP tries to render the cut off date useless.
It aims to give opportunity to those non-Muslims who entered India even after 1971, a legal status and they are rendered eligible to apply for citizenship.
From the very beginning AGP found itself in a tight spot on this Bill issue.
The Bill cuts slack for some illegal immigrants solely on the basis of their religious identity. And AGP finds itself cornered on the issue of whether they should continue allegiance to the government in power or not.
There are divisions within AGP on how the party should tackle this issue. In this case, Prafulla Mahanta who is also a signatory of the Accord has been staunchly opposing the Bill.
Last year, when the deadline of updating the NRC was extended, he accused the Government of deliberately delaying the process just to include the names of Hindu Bangladeshis.
He further stated that if the BJP went ahead with the Bill, the AGP will withdraw support from the Government.
However, other AGP leaders and especially those who are a part of the government have often shied away from taking such a clear stand.
Many have already criticised the AGP’s decision to continue protesting from within the government.
On May 31, AGP held a day-long marathon meeting and decided that they will move a resolution against the bill in the Cabinet meeting.
But on the very next day, they took a U-turn and did not raise the issue in the meeting.
In fact, different versions of the Cabinet meeting have emerged.
On one hand, the Assam Government spokesperson and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary told the reporters that AGP did not raise any issue related to the bill in the meeting. AGP’s Ramendra Narayan Kalita also stated that as AGP was assured by the Chief Minister that no decision on the bill will be taken without consulting them, the resolution opposing the bill was shelved.
This saw widespread outrage against the AGP. Many organizations questioned the commitment of the AGP to implementing the Assam Accord in true sense.
As a result, Atul Bora, who is the president of AGP and State Agricultural Minister clarified that although the discussion on the bill was not on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting, AGP ministers strongly raised the issue and stated that if the bill is passed, they will not be a part of the Government.
Despite such clarification, the damage has already been done. Many organizations in the State want the Assam Government to take cue from the Conrad Sangma led Meghalaya government and say no to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
What bothers the people of Assam more is that most of the BJP ministers starting from the Chief Minister himself have been a part and parcel of groups like AASU which led the anti-foreigners’ agitation.
In such a situation, utmost disregard for the Accord which belittles the sacrifice of those who lost their lives is not something that will go well with the people of Assam.
While a large number of organizations and individuals are protesting against the bill, the response of the parties in power has been lukewarm.
The Chief Minister did invite almost 29 organizations to discuss on the bill.
But the meeting was inconclusive. As such AASU has given a call for performing satyagraha on June 29 as a mode of protest against the bill.
The Asom Andolan Sangrami Manch, a forum of Assam agitation veterans decided to send mass letters to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, protesting against the bill.
They will further ask MPs from Northeast to oppose the bill in the Parliament’s next session.
The Chief Minister’s silence on the issue has also been questioned. Seen as a crusader of regional interests, his silence is deafening.
Unlike other leaders from BJP like Bijoya Chakraborty, Mira Borthakur and Binod Hazarika, he has refrained from openly opposing the bill.
But he has also not supported the bill like some of his fellow BJP leaders.
However when questioned by Rajdeep Sardesai in the India Today conclave, on his stand on the citizenship issue, he categorically stated that it is a central government policy and people running from religious persecution must be given refuge. He further stated that NRC upgradation is not related to the issue.
Despite such widespread agitation, the central government is still indecisive about Assam’s exclusion from the bill.
This bill has drawn newer faultiness. People are being pitted against each other on the basis of religion and language. In such a scenario, AGP’s lack of proactive stand is seen by many as their political insecurity playing out.
Back to the corridor of power after 15 long years they are rethinking on what condition they will exit the government.
But given the circumstances, shouldn’t political pragmatism take a back seat?
It is high time AGP clears its stand and speaks strongly for the rights and interests of the people of Assam. Or else they will also be rendered insignificant in the annals of history.
Parvin Sultana is an assistant professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur. She can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org