AGP walk­out an emo­tional loss: Hi­manta

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Front Page - Ku­mar Ut­tam let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com ▪

NEW DELHI: The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)’s de­ci­sion to sever ties with “nat­u­ral ally” Bharatiya Janata Party is an “emo­tional loss” but the de­vel­op­ment will not have any bear­ing on the Lok Sabha elec­tions this sum­mer, As­sam fi­nance min­is­ter Hi­manta Biswa Sarma said on Sun­day.

The 49-year-old leader, who is con­sid­ered the BJP point per­son for the north­east where the party has made sig­nif­i­cant gains in the past three years, said he was ready to wel­come the AGP if it wanted to re­turn to the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA).

“We will never close the doors for the AGP,” Sarma said in an in­ter­view. “Yes, it [the AGP walk­ing out of the al­liance] is an emo­tional set­back for us be­cause they were friends, and by and large our ide­o­log­i­cal line was the same. I am more emo­tion­ally upset, rather than elec­torally.”

Last week, the As­sam-based party pulled out of the BJP-led gov­ern­ment in the state over the Cit­i­zen­ship Amend­ment Bill, which seeks to give cit­i­zen­ship rights to non-Mus­lims from Bangladesh, Pak­istan and Afghanistan. The AGP has its roots in the 1985 As­sam Ac­cord, which said any­one who en­tered the state after March 1971 would be seen as an il­le­gal im­mi­grant and should be de­ported.

The Bill has plunged As­sam into a tur­moil, cre­at­ing an un­prece­dented com­mon ground for the AGP and tra­di­tional ri­val Con­gress. The over­tures from the Con­gress on at least two oc­ca­sions sug­gest pos­si­bil­i­ties of po­ten­tial new po­lit­i­cal fronts in the fu­ture, HT re­ported on Sun­day. At present, the com­mon ground, lead­ers of both par­ties say, is lim­ited to re­sist­ing the bill.

Sarma said As­sam had changed, but the AGP lead­er­ship was still stuck in the days of the As­sam ag­i­ta­tion. “The AGP does not un­der­stand this to­day, but they will re­alise this in days to come,” Sarma said, adding that an al­liance be­tween “indige­nous As­samese, trib­als and those who con­sider In­dia as their mother” was needed to main­tain so­cial equi­lib­rium.

NEW DELHI: As­sam fi­nance min­is­ter Hi­manta Biswa Sarma is of­ten de­scribed as the chankaya of the north­east who helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stitch up un­likely al­liances in the re­gion to achieve its Con­gress-mukt north­east

(Con­gress-free north­east) mis­sion. Sarma, 49, spoke to Ku­mar Ut­tam over the Asom Gana Parishad’s (AGP) de­ci­sion to with­draw sup­port to the As­sam gov­ern­ment over the con­tentious Cit­i­zen­ship Bill, which seeks to give cit­i­zen­ship rights to nonMus­lims from Bangladesh, Pak­istan and Afghanistan, and the likely im­pact of this is­sue on the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions. Edited ex­cerpts:

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has de­cided to walk out of the gov­ern­ment in As­sam. Is it a set­back to the BJP?

As­sam re­cently had pan­chayat elec­tions. The AGP made the Cit­i­zen­ship Bill an is­sue in that elec­tion. When re­sults came, the BJP got 270 zila parishad seats and the AGP got 11 or 12. There was a tus­sle be­tween us dur­ing the pan­chayat elec­tion, and since then there was an un­easy sit­u­a­tion. We knew that the AGP will not re­main in the al­liance. They walked out of the al­liance on the is­sue of the Cit­i­zen­ship Bill, but our ap­proach is that we will not be hos­tile to them. We will wel­come them if they want to re­turn to the NDA (Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance). The BJP won for­mer chief min­is­ter Pra­fulla Ku­mar Ma­hanta’s seat. We won all four zila parishad seats in AGP pres­i­dent Atul Bora’s area. We also won four seats in the area of their work­ing pres­i­dent Ke­shav Ma­hanta. It is not an elec­toral set­back. But, yes, it is an emo­tional set­back for us, be­cause they were friends, and by and large our ide­o­log­i­cal line was the same. I am more emo­tion­ally upset, rather than elec­torally. Are you still keep­ing doors open for the AGP?

There are some nat­u­ral al­liances in this coun­try, like that of the BJP and the Akali Dal. Ir­re­spec­tive of elec­toral re­sults, they are nat­u­ral al­liances. With chang­ing de­mog­ra­phy in As­sam, we feel that the BJP should work with the smaller tribal par­ties of As­sam and the AGP to main­tain the so­cial equi­lib­rium. What elec­toral im­pact these par­ties have is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, but it (such an al­liance) is needed for the so­cial equi­lib­rium. In As­sam, we call it a rain­bow al­liance of tribal par­ties and the AGP. We will never close the doors for the AGP. Be­cause we do not want a sin­gle divi­sion of the indige­nous As­samese in the name of party, caste or group. All indige­nous As­samese, peo­ple of In­dian ori­gin and trib­als should unite to fight the de­mo­graphic in­va­sion that has hap­pened in As­sam.

But the AGP’s main charge is that the Cit­i­zen­ship Bill will dis­turb the so­cial equi­lib­rium in As­sam and other north­east­ern states. How do you re­spond to that?

They (AGP lead­ers) are emo­tional. When we talk of so­cial equi­lib­rium, the AGP thinks that pur­pose is served with only main­stream As­samese, and we should only serve the in­ter­est of the main­stream As­samese. Of course, it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to stand with the indige­nous As­samese. When we in­clude trib­als, this so­cial al­liance does not cross 35%. So, peo­ple of In­dian ori­gin — or in our po­lit­i­cal lan­guage those who con­sider In­dia as their mother — should be added to the so­cial equi­lib­rium. But the

AGP is not ready to ac­cept this re­al­ity.

The mind­set of their lead­er­ship is stuck in the days of the As­sam ag­i­ta­tion. When I used to speak to AGP lead­ers, I would tell them that As­sam has changed and if you stand only by indige­nous As­samese, then you can­not fight de­mo­graphic in­va­sion. We want al­liance at the so­ci­ety level. The AGP does not un­der­stand this to­day, but they will re­alise this in days to come. They will take a prag­matic view.

The protest is not lim­ited to the AGP alone. Even the Megha­laya chief min­is­ter has ex­pressed reser­va­tions. Will it have any im­pact on the BJP-led North East Demo­cratic Al­liance (NEDA)?

It is not Megha­laya chief min­is­ter alone. The Ma­nipur chief min­is­ter be­longs to our party, and he has some reser­va­tions. Arunachal Pradesh chief min­is­ter, too, has some con­cerns. The is­sue is that these tribal states do not want any de­mo­graphic change — whether from Hin­dus or Mus­lims. They want to pro­tect their tribal cul­ture. Megha­laya CM has reser­va­tions be­cause of that. But in a democ­racy, we need to ap­pre­ci­ate that reser­va­tion.

NEDA was formed to merge the di­verse opin­ions, not to fight con­flict with con­flict. We want to ac­com­mo­date con­flict. I don’t think NEDA has any im­pact po­lit­i­cally. But, we ap­pre­ci­ate the com­pul­sion of Megha­laya CM. In your state you have this po­si­tion, if you take a cab­i­net res­o­lu­tion, you agi­tate against the bill or you protest through demo­cratic norms, we will ap­pre­ci­ate it. We should not take it as a con­fronta­tion. Po­lit­i­cally, the Megha­laya al­liance is stable. There is no neg­a­tive im­pact.

The Ma­nipur CM has asked for cer­tain ex­cep­tion for the state in the bill. Is there is scope for it? They are re­act­ing more on an emo­tional ba­sis. The stu­dents’ or­gan­i­sa­tion in As­sam in­flu­ences such bod­ies in other north­east­ern states. There is an ef­fort for a neg­a­tive pro­jec­tion of the bill in As­sam, and its im­pact is show­ing in some other parts of the north­east. I feel this bill will im­pact As­sam, Tripura...but Megha­laya and Ma­nipur has no ma­jor im­pact. If the Cen­tre can ac­com­mo­date views of Megha­laya and Ma­nipur, we do not have any prob­lem. Ma­nipur CM has met home min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh and we would like that Megha­laya CM also meets him. If Ma­nipur has 2,500 Ben­gali Hin­dus, Ra­j­nath Singh has said the Cen­tre can in­cen­tivise them if they want to move to any other state of the coun­try. The Cen­tre will try to see to it that en­tire bur­den does not come to north­east­ern states alone and is dis­trib­uted to other states too.

How con­fi­dent is the BJP about win­ning north­east de­spite all the con­tro­ver­sies sur­round­ing the bill?

This is not an elec­toral is­sue. This is a so­cial and emo­tional is­sue. If peo­ple are mov­ing away from the BJP, who will they vote for? The fight will be be­tween the BJP and the Con­gress. The Con­gress has a stated po­si­tion that both Hindu and Mus­lim refugees should be ac­com­mo­dated. The BJP has a stated po­si­tion that only Hin­dus, Chris­tians, Jains and such should be ac­com­mo­dated. If you trust the Con­gress, your bur­den will be dou­bled. If you trust the BJP, you bur­den is re­duced by 50%. So, here is a sit­u­a­tion, where no party can take po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit out of the sit­u­a­tion. Its elec­toral im­pact is nil. We will achieve the aim of win­ning 20-21 seats from the north­east. But if I say that it has no im­pact in so­ci­ety, then it will be a wrong state­ment. Some peo­ple are pained, peo­ple are emo­tion­ally upset, and there is anger among some peo­ple be­cause of the lack of in­for­ma­tion. When such a strong de­ci­sion is taken in the coun­try’s in­ter­est, then it be­comes our re­spon­si­bil­ity, as party work­ers, to com­mu­ni­cate the right in­for­ma­tion about this to the peo­ple. We will try to do that. We be­lieve so­cial bal­ance will fi­nally re­turn.

With chang­ing de­mog­ra­phy in As­sam, we feel that the BJP should work with the smaller tribal par­ties of As­sam and the AGP to main­tain the so­cial equi­lib­rium. What elec­toral im­pact these par­ties have is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, but it (such an al­liance) is needed for the so­cial equi­lib­rium... I will never close the doors (for the AGP).

HT FILE PHOTO

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