Voters watch as BJP, AGP slug it out in the open, Congress gets ready for the kill

Monday, 10 December 2018

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Voters watch as BJP, AGP slug it out in the open, Congress gets ready for the kill

Chetan Bhattarai | December 03, 2018 14:08 hrs

The fight is out in the open for all to see as the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are baying for each other’s blood. With the panchayat polls gaining momentum, the political tiff between the two partners is getting worse.

The AGP being a partner in the coalition of the state government has been trying to get mileage from the ruckus created by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. It has been raising its voice against the bill and has staged a large number of protests and rallies across Assam. The party kept the political pot simmering by accusing the BJP of discriminating people on the basis of religion for the bill. Much to the chagrin of the BJP, each and every leader of AGP spoke about relinquishing the friendship in public meetings if the bill is passed.

Well, it seems, the diatribe by the regional party did not go well with NEDA convenor and senior BJP cabinet minister, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma who came out and blasted the AGP. “A partner in a coalition should not be behaving in such a manner. AGP leaders, during the campaign trail of the ensuing panchayat polls, have been spreading the news that it was due to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that its partnership with the BJP was cancelled. Well, AGP has no moral right to oppose the bill as it was due to them that over 1 crore people were made Indian citizens and Assam is carrying the burden. They should have opposed way back in 1979 when it came up (inclusion of immigrants from 1951 to 1971) and should have done the NRC during their rule. We would not have been facing such a demographic change had the AGP taken its stand,” stated the BJP stalwart.

Dr Sarma was pretty miffed that some of the AGP leaders were mollycoddling with the Congress and it would harm everyone in the long run. The minister stressed on the friendship code and wanted the AGP to get it right.

“AGP leaders have been attacking us in public meetings. Some of the MLAs have openly indicated friendship with the Congress, especially seen in the case of Naharkatia MLA, Naren Sonowal. It is a matter of concern for everyone. For the last two-and-a-half years nobody from the BJP spoke against the AGP but we cannot just sit and watch. We have been following the friendship dharma (code) and did not take these things to the public but the continuous attack in the aegis of friendship dharma cannot be tolerated forever. We were silent as we were following the friendship code but repeated breaking of the code by AGP is unbecoming of the regional party.

Congress is our political enemy and AIUDF is our existential enemy. We should all make sure that we keep them away. I request that AGP and BJP should come together and weed out the greater threats,” stated Dr Sarma.

As Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma continues to campaign for the BJP and given the stand AGP has taken, more such confrontations may become the norm in the coming months as the general elections near. Moreover, Dr Sarma's response could put the AGP leadership in a poor light. The people of the state are aware that the AGP sits in the government and aggressively protests the coalition partner’s move. 

The counter by Dr Sarma sent AGP leaders in a huddle as they quickly gathered for a meeting at the office of water resources minister, Keshab Mahanta. After the meeting Atul Bora, President, AGP looked doubly-charged as he stated, “In politics breaking a friendship takes just a moment and we are ready for it. We will fight till the end and if need be, we will do it. Why is BJP trying to discriminate foreigners on the basis of religion? AGP will never accept it.”

It seems AGP has made up its mind. Buoyed by the public support it has been receiving across the state for its stand against the bill it is unlikely that the party would tone down the rhetoric.

“AGP is getting stronger in the grassroots and people are joining us in great numbers and we don’t understand why he (Dr Sarma) has said it. If, for the sake of the Assamese identity and for Assam we have to break such a friendship, we will break it end number of times.” The meeting was attended by top AGP leaders, Prafulla Mahanta, Keshav Mahanta, Birendra Prasad Baishya, Phani Bhusan Choudhury, Nurul Hussain and Pravin Hazarika. 

Taking advantage of the tension between the two parties, the Congress is seeing an opportunity. Congress desperately needs a break in state politics and is trying to go for the jugular.
A lot can be derived from three-time chief minister and Congress stalwart, Tarun Gogoi’s sudden interest on a partnership with the AGP. “Congress's doors are open as we want the AGP and regionalism to survive. We want a friendship with the AGP and we should work together to oust BJP. If they go against BJP we would like to support them. Though friendship will be decided by the party, I personally feel that we should be friends with AGP. I am a supporter of regionalism and not against it,” said the veteran Congressman.

Actually, nobody from BJP came out hammer and tongs against the AGP's continuous assault on the bill like Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma. It is election time and we are just a week away from the panchayat polls and since AGP is not a partner in the polls, Dr Sarma or the BJP have very little to lose from assaulting the AGP. In fact, they will gain more by attacking AGP as it would encourage the confused BJP workers to go for the kill. BJP workers, right from grassroots to the top level, had to sacrifice a lot of seats and other positions in the government to their coalition partner AGP. 

They would love to see AGP go, as it would not only open up political slots but also administrative berths and seats in future polls. But politics is not just about berths and seats. It is much more beyond it and leaders of both the parties are aware of the ramifications if the partnership discontinues. Both the BJP and AGP need each other as BJP cannot push AGP out and AGP cannot leave the coalition.

The AGP-BJP partnership dates back to 1999 general elections and might complete 20 years if all goes well. The vote bank in the state due to the demographic change caused by the influx has put AGP in a situation where it cannot achieve much by negating BJP. Its long absence from power for over 15 years has eroded its base, not to speak of its leaders switching over to other parties. They are still reaping the benefits of the 2016 coalition as they not only increased their seats but also got political power in the Sarbananda Sonowal cabinet. 

It would be politically foolish to think that the people of Assam will give them a full majority just for their stand against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The people already gave them two terms and were terribly disappointed by the overall performance and the internal fights. 

Similarly, the BJP cannot get the story straight without the AGP on its side, as the Modi wave of the 2014 is not there to pull them out of this political storm. For the BJP, it would be very difficult to get more seats in the general elections which are barely six months away if they decide to go without the AGP. With 2019’s mega-fight knocking, it would be insane for both the parties to break the coalition. For now, they have to act like the conjoined twins.

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