AGP may have stood out as a champion but its real intention is to dent BJP’s LS tally
In the end it is all about seizing the pre-poll narrative for the general election and whoever does that better, may just get some customers or force a self-serving discussion. That is why the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)’s withdrawal of support to the BJP-led Government in Assam is more about finding a politically opportune moment than real dissatisfaction. Yes, the AGP is right in arguing that the new citizenship amendment Bill as proposed by the BJP, granting citizenship to Hindu refugees from across the border till the cutoff year of 2014, is detrimental to Ahom identity and the right of indigenous people over their land, indeed the wherewithal of its politics. However, it was not that the AGP didn’t know that this was coming though, it can be reasonably argued, it found itself in a box in launching a counter campaign. It knew that the ruling Sarbananda Sonowal government would not fall if it withdrew support as it had overwhelming numbers (74 to AGP’s 14) and was unsure about its standing as an independent party that had the faith of the people.
The panchayat polls of December restored its confidence as did the Assembly election results that got the Congress back in reckoning in some states. But it was when other NDA allies became restive, demanding a pound of flesh or two from a dented BJP, that the AGP decided to get into the ring. Sensing the national sentiment at the moment, the AGP has realised that while the state government could run without it, it could threaten the BJP’s winning prospects in the Lok Sabha with its pullout. The BJP, not exactly riding the wave pre-2014, may not get the monolithic heartland verdict and would need every extra seat from the Northeast, which it has been nurturing and betting on. In about four seats, the BJP needs the AGP to effect a swing or defeat an entrenched Congress vote. Pundits predict if the Congress woos AGP and other parties to form a state level alliance and ensures a convergence of vote shares, then they could halt the BJP juggernaut in the general election and push its tally back from the seven seats it won in 2014.
The AGP’s main contention is a refugee influx, irrespective of religion, would change the demographic contours of the border districts that would forever be a prey base for the larger national parties and ensure the local parties are squeezed out. The BJP is clearly following a me-too model that has worked for the Congress and other Opposition parties at one time. As waves of Bangladeshi migrants crossed the borders, each Opposition party is equally guilty of legalising their stay and shoring up its respective votebank. If it was Muslims before, it is Hindus now. So the AGP has little choice now but to stand out as a strong regional voice. Meanwhile, the BJP is losing the tide of opinion as far as its allies are concerned. First, it was the TDP, then it was the PDP in Kashmir, followed by the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samta Party. The Shiv Sena still likes to trouble it now and then while the latest withdrawal missive from Apna Dal (Sonelal) has revived the perception of the BJP as an arrogant big brother feeding off the smaller parties and then grinding them to dust. As we said, it is all about the visual narrative. Depending on trade winds, all allies jump ships.