Citizenship bill contrasts BJP's promise in the NE? 

Citizenship bill contrasts BJP's promise in the NE? 

Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta in Guwahati on Tuesday. Photo by Manash Das

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 has put BJP's Hindutva ideology in contrast to its promise to protect regional identity in the Northeast, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The Asom Gana Parishad's (AGP) withdrawal of support from the BJP-led Assam government on Monday has led many here to believe that the ongoing protest against the bill would help the regional force get rejuvenated while the BJP sees it as a means to further consolidate its grip over the Assamese voters favouring Hindutva ideology and nearly 20% Bengali Hindu voters.

The AGP's exit also prompted BJP's other alliance partners in the Northeast — NDPP in Nagaland, NPP in Meghalaya and IPFT in Tripura to reiterate that they are opposed to the bill.

Assam minister and BJP's poll strategist in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who recently claimed that the saffron party would win 21 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region, on Sunday said the bill would enable Assam to counter the growing identity threat in at least 17 Assembly constituencies from those who believe in 'Jinnah's philosophy'. Sarma although did not specify the community he was talking about, many said he was referring to Muslim voters and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Badruddin Ajmal.

Out of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, the BJP had won 7 in 2014, the Congress got four while the AIUDF increased its tally from one in 2009 to three. The BJP formed its first government in the state in 2016 after joining hands with regional parties.

Former Assam chief minister and senior AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta on Tuesday dared the BJP to seek a fresh mandate while stating that the bill will hurt the regional sentiments badly. When asked about its fallout in the Lok Sabha polls, he said, "You will see in this election."

"At this moment AGP has the upper hand as it has acceptability among both Muslims and Hindu Assamese voters. It's going to be tough for the BJP as the All Assam Students' Union and several other local organisations are against the BJP over the bill unlike in 2016," a political observer said.

He said it would be tougher for the BJP if the Congress and the AIUDF join hands before the Lok Sabha polls. Many, however, said Sarma can turn the tide, which he did for the Congress and for the BJP in 2016 after he switched side.