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Will snap ties with BJP if it goes ahead with citizenship bill: AGP’s Prafulla Mahanta

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Coming close on the heels of the Karnataka debacle, former Assam CM’s comments could spell further trouble for BJP in the run-up to 2019.

New Delhi: Fresh from the Karnataka debacle, the BJP now has a new headache with its ally in Assam — Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) — threatening to break ties if it goes ahead with the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.

Coming at a time when allies like the TDP, the Shiv Sena and to some extent the Shiromani Akali Dal are giving the BJP a hard time, Mahanta’s comments could spell further trouble for the party in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

“If the BJP does go ahead with the bill, then the alliance with us won’t remain,” former Assam chief minister and AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta told ThePrint.

The bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship.

The bill has faced a massive backlash from several quarters in Assam, where the issue of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has always been a delicate political and social matter.

The controversy comes at a time when Assam is in the midst of a Supreme Court-monitored exercise to update its National Register of Citizens — essentially to identify those who entered the state illegally after the midnight of 24 March 1971.

A key clause of Assam Accord

The AGP, an ally in the BJP-led government in Assam, has maintained that all illegal immigrants from Bangladesh — irrespective of their religion — be deported, as per the provisions of the Assam Accord.

In fact, 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.

The AGP had Sunday protested against what is seen as the BJP’s bid to push the bill and expressed its concerns to party chief Amit Shah at the third conclave of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a BJP-led political formation, in Guwahati.

“The citizenship bill violates the Assam Accord. We have conveyed our displeasure to the BJP leadership both officially and unofficially,” Mahanta said.

“All illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who came after 1971 — whether they are Hindus, Muslims or any other religion for that matter — should be deported,” he asserted.

“This thing about giving citizenship to non-Muslims is new. There is no question of us supporting anything of that sort,” he added.

‘BJP maintains silence’

The former chief minister also said his party has not received any assurance so far from the BJP on this issue. “To please a certain section, the BJP may well go ahead with this bill. Maybe not immediately, but before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.

In the 126-member Assam assembly, the BJP has 61 seats and the AGP 14. More than the numbers, however, it is the threat of the AGP breaking away — as well as its possible impact in the state in the Lok Sabha election — that could worry the BJP. This, more so given the party is now facing a united opposition as well as allies like the TDP, the Shiv Sena are slowly turning into angry opponents.

Former AGP president Mahanta’s statement, therefore, could spell more bad news for the BJP.

The deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants had been BJP’s key campaign theme ahead of the 2016 assembly election in Assam. Since then, however, the BJP has managed to cleverly blur the line between anti-immigrant sentiments in the state and a resentment against only Muslim immigrants.

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