‘We want to live as secular Assamese community’

Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. (Photo: Manash Das, Guwahati)

As a student leader, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta led the anti-foreigners movement between 1979 to 1985, signed the Assam Accord in 1985 with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, formed Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a regional party, contested elections and was twice chief minister of Assam. He was perhaps the most vocal voice in the AGP against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, even as his party tied up with the BJP and won assembly elections that year. Mahanta, who staged a hunger strike in Guwahati last week, along with 11 other AGP MLAs, to oppose the bill, told DH’s Sumir Karmakar that the BJP’s “polarisation formula” triggered protests across the state as its people want to live as secular Assamese, not as Hindus and Muslims.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is for the entire country. Why is Assam protesting so much?

One thing was clearly mentioned in the Assam Accord — that those who came to Assam from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971, will detected, deleted and deported. Instead of that, the BJP has brought in a bill to offer citizenship to Hindus and other non-Muslim migrants who came in till December 2014. Due to geographical and demographical closeness, those coming from Bangladesh will prefer to stay in Assam — they won’t go to Gujarat or Rajasthan. The climate here is suitable for them. We have already accepted a large chunk of migrants till 1971 and so there cannot be a reason to accept more migrants beyond that. This bill violates the Assam Accord and so we are opposing it. If this bill becomes law, the indigenous Assamese people will be the losers in all respects — socially, culturally, economically and linguistically.

Also read: Sunday Spotlight | Narendra Modi’s North-East Plot: Citizen Hindu

BJP joined hands with AGP and came to power. Why’s it undermining the Assam Accord now?

This is vote bank politics, nothing else. And the significant part is that it was a pre-poll alliance, not post-poll support from us. So, the pre-poll alliance partners should obey some norms. But the BJP did not do so in the case of AGP. While taking a policy decision, the leading ruling party should have discussions with the partners, but they did not. So, after the AGP quit the alliance, if they consider that it is still their government, let them take a fresh mandate and prove it. Legally, they can remain in power, but morally they can’t.

BJP leaders are suggesting that Assamese people should accept Hindu illegal migrants because only then, Assamese politicians can win elections against Bengali Muslim migrants…

Are those who are saying this Assamese? If they are Assamese, they should know the history and culture of Assam. Assam has been the land of Vaishnava saint Srimanta Sankardeb as well as of the Islamic saint Ajan Peer. We have lived together as Assamese for ages. So, Assam can’t be seen from the perspective of Gujarat or Aligarh. When the Ahoms defeated the Mughals in Assam, the fighter who led the Ahom soldiers was Bagh Hazarika, a Muslim. So, they should keep all this in mind while making such statements. This shows their narrow mindset and plot to divide people into Hindus and Muslims. Assamese people want to live as a secular Assamese community, not as Hindus and Muslims as the BJP wants us to.

A strong protest is going on across the state against the bill. Many are saying there may be another Assam Agitation.

Also read: Sunday Spotlight | Up next in BJP plan: ST status for most of Assam  

It depends on the Centre. They should understand the language of democracy. Instead, if they want to fight, then the situation will definitely be dangerous.

Do you think the BJP used the regional political base by aligning with AGP and Bodoland People’s Font?

The BJP would not have got so many seats had they not formed the alliance. Since the beginning, I had stressed on evolving a common agenda related to the major issues in Assam, which is acceptable to all the partners. The BJP  promised to do so, but never did.

Who benefited more from the alliance -- AGP or BJP?

BJP gained more. Our aim was to unseat Congress and save Assam from its misrule. So, we joined hands with BJP. AGP supporters and voters supported BJP only for that, and so they got more seats. They can’t get so many seats without AGP and BPF’s support.

What will be the bill’s impact in the Lok Sabha elections?

Time will tell. I can’t comment on it now.

Can AGP can win elections based on regional sentiments? The BJP says AGP is irrelevant.

AGP is not fighting only for the sake of winning elections. Our cause is protection of identity of the indigenous people of Assam. If the BJP thinks AGP has become irrelevant, let them seek and win a fresh mandate in Assam.

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‘We want to live as secular Assamese community’

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