It’s not the arithmetic but the perception of constantly losing allies that would be of concern to the BJP, while opposition parties band together against it.
New Delhi: Yet another ally left the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold Monday as the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) decided to call off its partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
The controversial bill has been a sore point between the BJP and its ally in Assam, with the latter claiming it violates the 1985 Assam Accord. The Joint Parliamentary Committee looking into the bill submitted its report Monday, upholding almost all its provisions.
What does the bill entail?
The NDA government introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 2016, according to which illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan — who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — will be eligible for citizenship in India.
This comes at a time when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated in Assam to identify those who immigrated illegally from Bangladesh to Assam after 24 March 1971. If the bill is passed, it would mean among those identified as non-genuine citizens, Hindu immigrants will be granted citizenship, while Muslims will not.
The BJP has been pushing for this bill since it fits into its Hindutva politics, and the party wants to be seen to be delivering on its promises to its core vote-bank, its cadre, as well as its affiliates like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The AGP has maintained the bill goes against the tenets of the Assam Accord, and has maintained all illegal immigrants from Bangladesh — irrespective of religion — be deported.
The AGP was formed by leaders of the six-year-long agitation in Assam against illegal immigrants, which ended in 1985 with the signing of the accord, making it politically untenable for the party to continue with the BJP, given the latter’s push for this bill.
The issue is a sensitive point in Assam, where the anti-outsider sentiment has been dominant for decades. Given this sentiment has been against all outsiders, and not based on religion, ethnic Assamese have been opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Last week, at a rally in Silchar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared his government’s intention of bringing in the bill, and said it would “correct the mistakes made during partition”. Senior Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma added Sunday that if the bill wasn’t brought in, “at least 17 assembly seats will go to Jinnahs”.
These comments, the AGP says, left it with little choice.
“We had decided that if the BJP pushes for this bill, we will break ties with it. It blatantly violates the Assam Accord. The point was to identify all illegal immigrants, and here, the BJP is talking about giving citizenship to some,” former Assam chief minister and ex-AGP president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told ThePrint.
“Once the PM has come and said it in Assam, what is left for us to do? Anyway, this alliance was benefiting only the BJP, not us.”
Mahanta, however, maintained there were no talks yet on what the party would do next, and if it would look to join another grouping.
A question of perception
In the 126-member Assam assembly, the BJP has 61 seats, and is comfortably placed despite the pullout of AGP’s 14 MLAs, because it has other allies.
But more than the arithmetic, it’s the perception of constantly losing allies across various regions of the country that would be a matter of concern for the BJP, especially at a time when various opposition parties are coming together to forge a coalition against it.
Last year, the BJP lost two important allies — the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) in Bihar. While the RLSP joined the UPA, the TDP has been trying to put itself in the middle of a grand coalition of opposition parties.
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