While it remains to be seen how AGP and BJP will bury their differences over the citizenship bill, the alliances has dented Congress’ chances in Assam.
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) returned to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance in Assam on March 12, months after severing its ties with the saffron party over The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill issue.
The alliance was finalised in a meeting that included BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, AGP President Atul Bora and others that ended post-midnight.
BJP’s in-charge for the state, Ram Madhav tweeted early on March 13 that the two parties had “decided to work together” to “defeat Congress". The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) will be the third partner in the alliance.
AGP had stormed out of the BJP-led alliance over The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal immigrants (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan) eligible for Indian citizenship.
As the bill was already passed in Lok Sabha, it only had to be pushed through Rajya Sabha. However, as the 16th Lok Sabha concluded its final scheduled sitting on February 13, the bill now stands to officially lapse on June 3.
The Bill faced severe opposition in the Northeast, especially in Assam. There was a movement against the Bill being led by civil society organisations, students and native intellectuals. At one point, 11 political parties — some of which were BJP allies — had publicly opposed the bill.
Congress was hoping to capitalise on the prevailing sentiments in the state. It had also unsuccessfully tried to get AGP’s support.
Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi had told ThePrint, “Our doors are open for them (AGP). If they are willing to talk, we are willing to look at an alliance. We are not ruling it out.”
However, the Congress’ offer received a cold response from the AGP.
What makes AGP important?
In 2014, the BJP had won seven out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) had won three seats each. An Independent candidate had won one seat.
Despite contesting 12 seats, the AGP had failed to win any. However, it commanded a 3.87 percent vote share in the state. The three seats where it finished third were Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Jorhat. All of the three seats were won by the BJP while Congress finished second. AGP’s support would have helped Congress chances.
Now, an alliance with the AGP will help BJP consolidate the anti-Congress votes.
This arithmetic has worked in the past. In the 2016 Assembly polls, the two parties fought together with an aim to defeat the Congress. The BJP and the AGP won 60 and 14 seats in the 126-member Assam Legislative Assembly. Their ally Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) won 12 seats.
In 2009, the BJP and AGP had won four and one Lok Sabha seat, respectively.While it remains to be seen how AGP and BJP will bury their differences over the citizenship bill, the alliances has dented Congress’ chances of recovering some of the losses made in the state last time.