New Delhi: Buckling under increased public pressure in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a BJP ally in the state, has announced that it would challenge the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in the Supreme Court. This development comes after the party ignored the public sentiment in the state against the amendment and asked its lone Rajya Sabha MP Biren Baishya to vote in its favour.
AGP was born in the state in 1985 as a political alternative to the Congress after the six-year-long anti-foreigner agitation. The signatories of Assam Accord, the memorandum of settlement as per which the agitators had entered into a formal agreement with the government of India to end the agitation and keep out all undocumented migrants after March 24, 1971, were the founders of the party.
It is this accord that the CAA violates. The citizenship cut-off date for undocumented non-Muslim Bangladeshis has been extended from March 1971 to December 31, 2014, which has infuriated the majority Assamese population of the state, pushing them to hit the streets in huge numbers, shouting slogans against the BJP-led government in Dispur and against New Delhi.
A day before the Bill was to be tabled at the Lok Sabha for passage, Atul Bora, the AGP president and a minister in the BJP-led government, told local media that the state had already taken a lot of “illegal immigrants” and “what is the harm in taking a few more lakhs”. Though its founder presidents Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Brindaban Goswami opposed the Bill and asked the party to do so too, they were side-lined by the new leadership. Bora said the Centre “wants to bring the Bill,” and he “can’t do anything about it.”
However, the AGP faced the ire of protesters, even the prospect of a revolt within the party. A large number of its cadre demanded the resignation of Bora for supporting such a Bill at the diktats of the BJP and some even sought a split. After these developments, Bora and two other AGP ministers in the Sarbananda Sonowal government – Keshab Mahanta and Phani Bhushan Choudhury – and their coterie seemed to have changed tack. On Monday, addressing a press meet in Guwahati, Bora said the Brahmaputra Valley should be excluded from the purview of the Act.
“We will take the legal route to seek revocation of the amended Act as the indigenous people of Assam are apprehensive that their identity, language might come under threat,” party leader Kumar Deepak Das told news agency PTI. A former Rajya Sabha member, Das was to fly to Delhi to file a petition.
Caught on the back foot, minister Keshab Mahanta termed Bora’s earlier statement a personal comment and not the party’s stand. “Being a regional party, we cannot go against the interests of the indigenous people,” he added.
Soon after the Bill was passed in parliament, motorcades of the AGP’s ministers were chased by public, forcing them to stay indoors.
In the earlier session of parliament, massive public protests in Assam against the Bill had pushed these three AGP ministers to resign from the party. In January 2019, the AGP pulled out of the alliance. Their resignation was never accepted by the BJP, thus triggering speculation in political circles of the state that the pull-out was due to a tacit understanding with the ruling BJP as a method to quell protests.