AGP pulls out of BJP-led coalition in Assam over Citizenship Bill; no threat to state govt

PTI
Monday, 7 January 2019

The announcement was made by AGP president and minister Atul Bora after he said its "last-ditch attempt to convince" the Centre to withdraw the proposed legislation failed.

GUWAHATI/NEW DELHI: In more ally trouble for the BJP, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on Monday announced it has pulled out of the BJP-led ruling coalition in Assam over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which the regional party is opposing tooth and nail.

The decision to snap ties with the BJP over the bill that seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will, however, not affect the stability of the Sarbananda Sonowal-headed government. The bill is likely to come up in the Lok Sabha tomorrow which is the scheduled last day of the winter session of Parliament.

The announcement was made by AGP president and minister Atul Bora after he said its "last-ditch attempt to convince" the Centre to withdraw the proposed legislation failed.

The AGP has 14 MLAs in the 126-member assembly while the BJP has the support of 74 MLAs.

The BJP has 61 members while 12 MLAs of the Bodoland People's Front and a sole Independent member are backing the party. The opposition Congress and the All Indian United Democratic Frontg (AIUDF) have 25 and 13 members respectively.

AGP has three ministers in the state but they have not resigned yet.

The AGP has no MP in the Lok Sabha or in the Rajya Sabha.

The decision to snap the ties followed an AGP delegation's meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi during which he asserted that the government will ensure the passage of the Citizenship Bill in the Lok Sabha Tuesday.

"We made a last ditch attempt today to convince the Centre not to pass the Bill. We tried to convince the Centre that the bill was against the Assam Accord and will nullify the ongoing updating of the National Register of Citizens(NRC).

"But Singh told us clearly that it will be passed in Lok Sabha tomorrow. After this, there is no question of remaining in the alliance," Bora told reporters after the meeting.

The BJP had promised to ensure the passage of the bill in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The TDP and Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samta Party quit the BJP-led NDA in the last one year during which the saffron party also parted ways with the PDP-headed coalition in Jammu and Kashmir.

The BJP's ties with Shiv Sena also remain strained while the leader of another NDA constituent Apna Dal (Sonelal) Monday warned its ally BJP it will go to "any extent" if the senior partner does not change its attitude to smaller parties in the ruling coalition.

Apna Dal (S) president Ashish Patel said the party can take "any decision" but declined to elaborate.

The Union Cabinet earlier in the day cleared the redrafted Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, officials said.

A meeting of the Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the bill and it is expected to be tabled in Lok Sabha Tuesday, an official privy to the development said.

Asked if the ministers have tendered their resignations, Bora said, "We will do that after reaching Guwahati."

Later, Bora told reporters, "We felt betrayed at the BJP's attitude towards the bill as when we entered into the alliance, we were convinced Prime Minister Narendra Modi was committed to resolve the issue of illegal migrants...We never dreamt that the BJP could do this to the people of Assam. We now regret entering into an alliance with the BJP."

He also rued that Chief Minister Sonowal refused to meet them when they had sought an appointment to discuss the issue with him as "probably he could not face us".

Bora also said that Singh was requested not to ignore public sentiments only for votes but it is unfortunate that they did not listen.

The move by the AGP came within hours of the presentation in Lok Sabha of a report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee examining the bill that was first introduced in Parliament in 2016.

The announcement followed AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta's statement in Guwahati that the party would withdraw support to the government in the state if the bill is passed in the Lok Sabha.

The bill seeks to amend Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don't possess any proper document.

The Bill has been opposed by a large section of people and organisations in the Northeast.

The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and a few other parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill claiming that citizenship can't be given on the basis of religion and that it is unconstitutional.

There was widespread protests in the state against the Bill.

A meeting of the AGP was held in Guwahati on Friday on the issue and it was decided that if the Bill is passed in Lok Sabha, "we will withdraw support to the government in the state," Mahanta said earlier in the day.

The three AGP ministers and a senior party MLA had gone to New Delhi to meet the prime minister who is yet to give them an appointment. The leaders, however, met Rajnath Singh.

The AGP had entered into an alliance with the BJP before the 2014 polls and was opposed to the Bill since the beginning.

The AGP had placed its reservations on the Bill before the Joint Parliamentary Committee when the panel had visited the state and also tried to mobilise opinion against the Bill among NDA constituents such as the JD(U) and Shiv Sena, and opposition parties. 

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