BJP is a lethal force in contemporary India’s political landscape but it is careful enough not to walk through a minefield
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah to North-East Democratic Alliance convener Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP has all its big guns booming across Assam in numerous rallies ahead of the Assembly election. Despite the swelling crowd at rallies and roadshows, the BJP is confident yet cautious which was evident in its manifesto that the party released on Tuesday. The BJP document has strategically avoided the contentious issues of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and commitment to the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord in its Sankalpa Patra lest it disappoints a section of its voters.
Silent on CAA
“The CAA is a commitment of the Parliament and the BJP which brought the legislation will implement it. The chances of BJP winning the election depends solely on Upper Assam and northern Assam where there are serious reservations against CAA. I think they played a political game by not including it in their manifesto. They have not spoken about CAA anywhere in Upper and northern Assam. I believe they will start speaking about CAA in the second phase of the election. In the first phase, they will not talk about CAA,” said political analyst Shyamkanu Mahanta.
The amended Citizenship Act allows “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act.”
A senior BJP leader at the state level, who chose to remain anonymous, said that the party has not dropped the issue.
“The CAA has already been passed by the Parliament. But the matter is sub judice now. We can only do anything once the court gives its verdict,” he said.
However, the sub judice argument behind staying away from CAA which BJP offered falls flat immediately because the party has made the implementation of CAA in West Bengal its topmost agenda in the first cabinet meeting itself provided it comes to power. Moreover, although the CAA has been challenged in the Supreme Court, the apex court has neither barred the implementation of the Act nor imposed any ban on it to date.
“They have not mentioned it in the Sankalpa Patra so that there is no adverse impact in Upper and northern Assam. This is a political call. They don’t want to ruffle feathers in Upper Assam by raking up the troublesome issue of CAA. Their victory will depend on that,” said Mahanta.
The political offspring of the anti-CAA protests in Assam — Raijor Dal and the Assam Jatiya Parishad — are yet to find a strong footing on the ground and might only end up benefitting Congress in the end.
“Because of CAA, the Congress is likely to suck in the votes of the Assam Jatiya Parishad. Congress has hijacked the agenda of Raijor Dal and AJP. Anti-CAA votes are going mostly to Congress. As such the Congress is emerging as a challenge mostly to BJP in constituencies like Jorhat, Golaghat, Mariani, Thowra, Titabar among others in Upper Assam. The sweep that BJP had in 2016 is unlikely to happen this time because there is enough competition. It is happening because Congress is gaining some extra votes. There are many people who voted for BJP last time, who might vote for the Congress this time,” the political analyst said.
“If they vote for AJP then there will be no competition. But these votes are likely to go to Congress, a party that has its own vote base. Suppose in Teok if Congress gets 35,000-40,000 votes, the added anti-CAA votes, even if they come around 5,000 will be a bonus for them,” Mahanta said.
The second and third phase of voting will take place in Assam on 1 and 6 April while the first phase is on 27 April.
Recently, during the campaign trail, both Assam BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass and state finance minister Sarma indicated that there will be no compromise on CAA on different occasions.
Reacting to the exclusion of CAA from the BJP manifesto in Assam, the Raijor Dal came down heavily on the national party.
“BJP has tried to avoid mentioning the implementation of CAA in its manifesto for the Assam Assembly Election as it knows that the people of Assam oppose the CAA tooth and nail. However, they have promised the implementation of CAA in its West Bengal manifesto. But people of Assam can see through their dirty tricks,” said Raijor Dal spokesperson Gyanashree Bora.
“The illegal immigrants’ issue is an emotional issue for the people of Assam for decades now. No government has shown the political will to solve the issue. But the BJP government has crossed all limits by blatantly going ahead to give citizenship to illegal immigrants rather than deporting them. People of Assam rightly feel that implementation of CAA is going to bring grave danger to the indigenous languages and cultures and also threat livelihoods concerns of the population. At the same time, Assam also opposes CAA because it poses a threat to the very ethos of religious harmony of Assamese culture which does not differentiate citizens on the basis of religion,” Bora said.
Accusing the BJP of “functioning in a dubious fashion”, the Congress sharply criticised the role of Amit Shah.
“Regarding the CAA, the home minister (Amit Shah) in particular, totally obliterated the fact that such a protest happened and the young boys who were killed didn’t exist. I wonder if they know the history of Assam. Their only motive is to win the election by hook or by crook,” said Assam Congress, general secretary and media chairperson, Bobbeeta Sharma.
Quiet on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord
Another controversial issue of the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord also found no place in the BJP Sankalpa Patra.
Clause 6 of the Assam Accord states: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
“They have not added Clause 6 because I don’t think they are very keen to implement it. The percentage of reservation is a cause of concern for the BJP. The BJP is trying to form a rainbow of the coalition. For example, the Bengalis and the Nepalis are a very important part of their vote bank. The BJP fears that stressing the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord might exclude Bengalis and Nepalis from their vote bank,” the political analyst said.
“Going forward, they might employ a process of consultation to address the issue. As of today, they are trying to negate the impact of not including Clause 6 in their Sankalpa Patra by generating a fear psychosis for AIUDF (All India United Democratic Front) and Badruddin Ajmal. That’s why they are doing aggressive campaigning. However, there is no doubt that there are complications. This may be the reason behind Himanta Biswa Sarma’s relentless campaigning seeking to crate a pro-BJP wave in Upper and northern Assam,” Mahanta said.
However, the BJP felt there is no such urgency that the topic should have found a place in the manifesto so as to assuage the Assamese community of its intent.
“We will settle the Clause 6 issue in two years. We have already said that. We will resolve it in a time-bound manner,” the anonymous BJP leader said.
The Raijor Dal, which is a new regional entity in the political battlefield of Assam, doubted the intention of the national party on the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
“BJP has also not mentioned about implementation of 6th schedule of the Assam Accord in their manifesto because they know nobody will trust them. BJP came to power with the slogan of ‘Jati, Mati, Bheti’, which is a slogan safeguarding the cultural, linguistic and land rights of the indigenous people. But they have done a complete U-turn by bringing CAA. So the people of Assam know that BJP does not have any intent or political will to implement the 6th schedule of the Assam Accord in the next five years as well. This is also very clear from the fact that there was no one from the Central government even to receive the recommendation report of the 6th schedule implementation committee constituted by the Central government only in the peak of the CAA movement,” Bora said.
In its 52-page Sankalpa Patra for Assam, which steers clear of issues concerning the sentiment of the Assamese community, the absence of commitment to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord from the BJP, gave Congress another arena to mount an attack on the saffron party.
“The BJP has muddled up the whole Clause 6 process. They formed committee after committee. After all the people from the first committee resigned, they formed another committee. When this committee submitted its report, they have not put the document in public space so far. Then suddenly we find that the AASU (All Assam Students’ Union) chief advisor (Samujjal Bhattacharya) released a copy of it to the press. But till now we don’t know officially what the report has. The BJP is operating in a very clandestine manner in matters related to the serious business of Assamese people’s sentiments,” Sharma said.
A year has passed since the justice Biplab Kumar Sharma-headed high-level committee on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord gave its report to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his cabinet colleagues on 25 February last year. In February this year, the Union government told the Parliament that the Assam government is still examining the report and it is yet to reach the Centre.
Circumventing the minefield
The BJP is a considerable force in contemporary India’s political landscape but it is careful enough not to walk through a minefield. The saffron party clearly knows what political significance the CAA and Clause 6 of the Assam Accord carry for the poll-bound state. It is just reluctant to bite the bullet just before the ballot begins, rather the election voting machines beep.
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