Former chief minister of Assam Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party ally and National Democratic Alliance constituent party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), in conversation with National Herald accused the Narendra Modi Government of using the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam for political gains. Demanding immediate withdrawal of the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 (Amendment) Bill 2016, he told NH that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not fulfil even a single promise he made to the people of Assam during the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign.
The AGP is a junior partner in the BJP-led government in Assam, with three of its MLAs serving as ministers. Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was once a prominent leader of the AGP, before later switching over to the BJP.
Accusing the BJP of “majority appeasement”, Mahanta said that the BJP government is trying to change the definition of illegal migrants by amending the Citizenship Act 1955. By doing so, the BJP wants to provide citizenship to illegal Hindu migrants who came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, alleged Mahanta. Since its introduction in 2016, the AGP has been vociferously protesting against the bill, which is presently under consideration by a joint committee of Parliament.
“Except Muslims, BJP will also provide citizenship to Sikh, Buddhist and Jains who came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan which is a clear violation of the Assam Accord,” he added.
Referring to the 40 lakh names that did not figure in the final draft of the NRC, Mahanta expressed fears that if the bill is passed, the Hindu migrants among those 40 lakh names will automatically get Indian citizenship.
Prafulla Kumar Mahanta: “We have not decided whether AGP should forge an alliance with the BJP in 2019 or not. We will take a call soon”
Apart from Mahanta, a large section of people and organisations in Assam and the North-East have opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants, irrespective of their religion.
When asked about the controversy around the NRC, Mahanta said BJP is using NRC for political gains, so much so that the state government is even planning to postpone the panchayat elections which are due this September. “But, we want local election in time. BJP is using NRC as a pretext to postpone it. We will go to the polls alone if needed,” said Mahanta.
Pitching for a nation-wide NRC, Mahanta said every state of the country should constitute an Assam-like NRC to identify foreigners. “I have requested West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to undertake Assam-like NRC to drive out ‘illegal immigrants’ but she has not responded yet”, said Mahanta.
Stating that he is in favour of simultaneous elections, Mahanta said that he is ready to face the Lok Sabha election.
However, on the question of alliance with the BJP for the next Lok Sabha election, his reply was a studied silence. When asked again, Mahanta said, “We have not decided whether AGP should forge an alliance with the BJP in 2019 or not. We will take a call soon.”