Mahanta skips vote to protest citizenship bill

Prafulla Mohanta

Former Assam chief minister and veteran leader of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), who had opposed the alliance with BJP, skipped voting on Thursday as a protest against the saffron party’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Prafulla Mahanta, who recently urged people to vote against those supporting the bill (AGP-BJP), did not cast his vote under Nagaon Lok Sabha constituency, where polling was conducted on Thursday, along with four other constituencies.

Although Mahanta could not be contacted, his aides said the former chief minister decided to abstain from voting as “a last resort” to oppose the Citizenship bill.

“Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah said in election campaigns in Assam that BJP will bring the bill again despite protests by indigenous people, he decided to boycott the vote,” one of them said.

AGP had contested the assembly elections together with BJP in 2016 and formed a coalition government. The regional party, however, quit the alliance on January 7, a day before the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP, however, did not table the bill in Rajya Sabha mainly owing to Congress’ opposition and strong public protests in most parts of the Northeast.

Mahanta, one of the signatories of the historic Assam Accord of 1985, says the bill that sought to offer citizenship to non-Muslims migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan till December 2014, would nullify the accord.

He says the foreigner issue in the state should be solved as per the accord, which decided March 24, 1971 as the cut-off mark, irrespective of religion. As a leader of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Mahanta had led the Assam Agitation or anti-foreigners movement between 1979 to 1985, before signing the Assam Accord and becoming the chief minister twice.

Terming it “communal and unconstitutional,” Mahanta had told DH earlier that the bill was a threat to the state’s indigenous communities as it would give citizenship to large number of “illegal migrants.” He has constantly opposed the AGP-BJP alliance saying the saffron party posed a “serious threat” to the unique identity of the indigenous people.

However, AGP leaders including its president, Atul Bora neglected Mahanta’s opposition and restored the alliance with BJP and decided to contest the Lok Sabha elections together. BJP is contesting in 10 seats, AGP in three and Bodoland People’s Front in one.

BJP leaders said Mahanta’s vote boycott had no significance as the former chief minister lost relevance in the state politics.

But political observers said it would give a boost to the agitation against the bill.

Five of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, where elections was conducted on Thursday, reported 73.32% voting till 5 pm.

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