SATRAAJIT PALCHOUDHURY | 2 FEBRUARY, 2019
Citizenship Row: Cracks Appear Between Barak and Brahmaputra Congress
Nor is the BJP’s house in order in the state
SILCHAR: Lok Sabha elections are just a couple of months away and the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) and its offshoot in the state’s Barak Valley region are following different lines over the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
APCC President Ripun Bora and fellow MP Bhubaneswar Kalita have registered their opposition to this contentious bill.
“This Citizenship Bill is going to destroy the identity of the Assamese community. The people of Assam are opposing the bill tooth and nail. In these trying times we would prefer to stand by the side of our brethren,” Bora said.
However, Silchar MP and All India Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev has rejected the APCC line outright.
In 2014, Dev managed to overcome the Modi tsunami and win because the BJP nominated the veteran Kabindra Purkayastha who was not at all popular among the masses.
But in 2019 the prime issue in the northeast, particularly in Assam, will be the Citizenship Bill.
As the Barak Valley is dominated by Bengali-speaking people it will be difficult for the local Congress leadership to swim against the tide.
Dev understands this political compulsion. If she supports the APCC’s stance it will be tantamount to political suicide.
Despite Bora’s making these strong statements, in reality All India Congress Committee President Rahul Gandhi considers Dev one of his bankable leaders.
Nor is the BJP’s house in the Barak Valley in order. Incumbent BJP MLA from Silchar Dilip Kumar Paul often makes strong statements against the state government.
Above all the BJP is still finding it difficult to nominate a ‘winnable’ candidate against Dev. PM Modi is said to be targeting the 123 seats he lost in 2014, one of which was Silchar.
This election season the prime minister chose to start his campaign trail in Assam, from Silchar.
The Barak Valley sends two MPs to the Lok Sabha, from Silchar and Karimganj. Silchar is dominated by Hindus and Muslims predominate in Karimganj, which also shares a porous border with Bangladesh.
So far the BJP has not been able to finalise its candidates for Silchar. Many names are doing the rounds, from cyber expert Subimal Bhattacharjee to Supreme Court advocate Subhrendu Shekhar Bhattacharjee.
Against such speculation, Sushmita Dev is all set to contest from Silchar again in 2019.
“Yes, we will have to admit that Sushmita [Dev] is a very tough contender. She has cemented her place in Indian politics. To wrest Silchar from Congress, BJP workers will have to walk the extra mile,” Purkayastha said.
Dev’s views on the Citizenship Bill differ from the BJP’s. The saffron brigade is concerned only about the people it calls ‘Hindu Bengalis’ - but the Congress leader is pitching for ‘citizenship’ for both Hindus and Muslims.
In Dev’s opinion the authorities should prepare the list of eligible citizens by taking a leaf from the 2014 voters’ list. If she succeeds in this plan the Congress might regain Karimganj - in 2014 Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front ousted the Congress from this border town.
In the five years since, the AIUDF has lost ground in the Barak Valley, giving the Congress a fair chance of sneaking into Karimganj in 2019.
Religious minorities, particularly Muslims, never been comfortable with the RSS-BJP’s idea of India. At this juncture Barak Valley Muslims may have no party to bank on other than the Congress.
Local BJP leaders are not saying anything openly against the Citizenship Bill, preferring to simply toe the party line. But the Congress has come out all guns blazing on this issue against the Sarbananda Sonowal government.
In fact Hailakandi Congress President Rahul Roy recently resigned from the Congress after falling out with the APCC over the bill.
“To me my community is bigger than my party. Bengali Hindus are victims of religious persecution in Bangladesh. I have tried umpteen number of times to convey my views to my leadership. Unfortunately I have failed. So, I have severed my ties with the Congress,” Roy told the media.
The Congress’s base in the northeast has dwindled. In politically significant Uttar Pradesh the ‘Grand Old Party’ has been ignored by the Bua-Bhatija (Aunt-Nephew) duo, whose pre poll alliance must be making the BJP nervous meanwhile.
In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections the Congress victories in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh will surely have boosted its workers’ morale.
But intra-party differences in Assam over the Citizenship Bill might hit the prospects of the RaGa brigade. Time is running out, and the rifts between the Barak Valley and Brahmaputra Valley Congress are getting wider.
“You consider it a rift. But I am looking at it from a different prism. Our colleagues in the Brahmaputra Valley have their own political calculations. But the dust will settle after 2019, there is no need to panic,” according to Dev.
But surely Dev realises the political consequences of this falling out. Who can say how many more Congress leaders from the Barak Valley will jump ship ahead of the general election?