There is rising internal revolt and external resistance for BJP from major North Eastern allies over the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Image Courtesy: PTI
Guwahati: If the assembly elections in 2018 were any indication, BJP could risk losing its power in the North East in the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections this year. BJP was confident about winning 20 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the seven North-Eastern States in the general elections this year. After winning almost all North Eastern states in the assembly elections with the help of alliances, it was assumed that the sentiment will be mirrored in the upcoming 2019 polls. By getting a massive victory in these states, it hoped to allay the challenges being faced in western and central India.
Everything changed in a split second after BJP took a strong position in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). Its stronghold, the state of Assam is seeing the most resistance since the proposal of Citizenship Amendment Bill was initiated in 2016.
Assam was the lone resistance against the bill and the other NE states were maintaining a measured silence because of the cordial relationships of big regional parties and social organisations with BJP. After CAB was passed in Lok Sabha, growing public discontent compelled parties to break their silence and revolt against the Bill reconsider their partnership with BJP. Since JPC gave the clearance to CAB and the Prime Minister declared India a natural home for Hindus around the World on Jan 4 at Silchar, Assam was engulfed in rage. The people and authorities in Assam found the declaration nothing but an attempt to jeopardize the ongoing NRC process which is being updated to detect, detain and deport foreigners in Assam.
The day Citizenship Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament, 14 youngsters from Assam protested naked just 15 metres away far from the main entrance of the Parliament. The Left Democratic Forum (LDF) brought out a massive rally in the heart of Guwahati and other district headquarters in the State. The writers, artists and intellectuals of the State organised a massive rally at Guwahati "Save Assam, Save Constitution” under the leadership of eminent public intellectual Dr. Hiren Gohain. All these protests were ignored by the ruling BJP Government in Assam and at the Centre, as they thought the protest of Assamese people will be short-lived and thus the Citizenship Amendment Bill was hastily passed in Lok Sabha.
BJP leaders everywhere tried to undermine the movement against CAB and called it a tactic by leftists, left intellectuals and backed by Congress. Himanta Biswa Sharma, one of the most powerful ministers of Assam attacked Dr Hiren Gohain by saying, “The movement against Citizenship Amendment Bill is not a movement by Assamese people but a movement by Left intellectuals who want Assam to turn into Pakistan. Their only objection to the bill is that Muslims are not given opportunity to get Citizenship under the bill. If Muslims were given an opportunity to get Citizenship, then neither the Congress nor Dr. Hiren Gohain will oppose this bill."
Assam State BJP spokesperson actively attacked the united movement by saying that the expenditure of the movement was borne by Congress.
Assam State BJP President Ranjit Das said, “The Citizenship Amendment Bill is in the interest of Assamese people. The bill will open an opportunity to give Citizenship to Hindus only to save Assam from the aggression of Muslims.” While BJP leaders were trying to pacify the public discontent by stoking the Islamophobia fire, Congress, Maoists and the people of Assam largely rejected all types of false propaganda.
As time passes, the growing dissatisfaction of the general masses is demanding an answer from BJP alliances and are demanding clarification about their support for BJP and opposition against the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Opposition from BJP allies
On January 7, while the discussion on CAB was happening in the Parliament, several political leaders and Assam intellectuals started criticizing the bill and BJP one after the other. Even the alliance partner of BJP in Assam, the AGP, was not spared from criticism in eminent Guwahati power circles.
At the massive gathering of "Save Assam, Save Constitution" movement, eminent Lawyer of Assam, Arup Barbara, who has had a long association with BJP, spoke against AGP saying, "the AGP, which was born from the womb of the Assam Movement, is being opportunistic about the Citizenship Amendment Bill. If they do not reconsider their relationship with the BJP after so many protests, people of Assam should strongly oppose AGP too.”
A few minutes after this warning, the Working President of AGP and Minister of Assam, Keshab Mahanta declared in Delhi, "After so many efforts, we failed to convince BJP. The party is firm in passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill. In this situation, the coalition between AGP and BJP can't continue. AGP has decided to be with the people of Assam. We are withdrawing our support for BJP. All Ministers and Chairman’s of various departments and boards are going to submit their resignation. We will go to the streets so that the Citizenship Amendment Bill can't be passed at any cost.” Two days later, three Ministers of Assam resigned from BJP led Government in Assam.
Opposition from Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland
In Meghalaya, the NPP led Government, which was part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a united front under BJP, declared its opposition against Citizenship Amendment Bill. After AGPs departure from the BJP led alliance, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma declared that the NPP led Government in Meghalaya will not allow CAB to pass. He claimed that if the bill is passed, the NPP led Government in Meghalaya will cease all relationships with the BJP and NEDA. Later, the Meghalaya Cabinet and Assembly passed a motion against CAB. Two BJP MLAs in Meghalaya also opposed CAB.
In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front, which is also a part of the BJP led NEDA, also registered a strong opposition against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. MNF is the party in power in Meghalaya. It said that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not acceptable to the Mizoram Government. It assured that if the bill is accepted by the Parliament, MNF will cease all coalition with BJP. In Meghalaya, there is a coalition Government led by Nationalist People's Party (NPP). NPP has 20 members in the 60 members Assembly house in Meghalaya, where 7 other parties including 2 BJP MLAs are coalition partners of NEDA. In the 40 members house in Mizoram, MNF has 27 MLAs and BJP has one MLA.
In Nagaland, the Nagaland Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) led government also decided to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill. In the 60 members Nagaland Assembly, NDPP is the largest party within NEDA constituents. NDPP has 18, BJP has 12, NPP has 2, JD(U) has 1 and one other independent MLA are constituents of NEDA Government in the State.
The main opposition, Nagaland People's Front (NPF) is the single largest party with 26 MLAs. When the main opposition party of Nagaland has strongly opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the ruling NDPP led NEDA Government has followed suit. The Nagaland cabinet in their resolution said that the Nagaland Government will not accept the Citizenship Amendment Bill at any cost.
Not just the coalitions, but the BJP led Government in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh has also resolved not to accept the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Thus, other than the BJP led government in Assam and Tripura, all other five States, where either BJP is leading the government or is a coalition partner is opposing the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is being seen as a huge embarrassment for the BJP in North-East.
Situation in Assam
With all the seven sisters united against CAB, the house of cards seems to be falling at a rapid pace for BJP. The situation in Assam is deteriorating rapidly. With the CM and other Assam political leaders backing CAB, many others are against it. The bill has caused a huge rift across party lines.
In a statement issued Jan 10, Assam Assembly speaker and the BJP MLA from Jorhat said, "People of Assam have strongly opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill. When all the people who love Assam from their soul can't accept the bill, my heart and conscience can’t accept it either. The government must respect the sentiments of Assam people.”
Not only the speaker of Assam Legislative Assembly but senior BJP MLA Padma Hazarika, Atul Bora and first time MLA of BJP Rituparna Baruah from Lahowal, also opposed CAB. On January 14, Rituparna Baruah in his media briefing said, “Citizenship Amendment Bill is not acceptable for us.” He even criticized the sedition charge against public intellectual Dr. Hiren Gohain and said, “Dr. Hiren Gohain is the conscience of Assam. There is a greater conspiracy within the home department to defame Dr. Hiren Gohain.”
Not only a few MLAs but Assam State BJP spokesperson Mehdi Alom Borah left primary membership of BJP on January 8 a few minutes after the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. The biggest wound to BJP in the CAB row was inflicted on October 10 when the most respected BJP leader of Assam, Chandra Kanta Das, a former IAS, left the primary membership of the party. At the time of resignation, Chandra Kanta Das was serving as the Vice-president of BJP in Assam.