Ending all speculations, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Wednesday returned to the NDA fold and will fight the Lok Sabha elections in Assam in alliance with the BJP, two months after breaking ties over the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Three AGP ministers - Atul Bora, Keshab Mahanta and Phani Bhusan Choudhury - took charge of their old respective departments after Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who had not accepted their resignation letters, invited the AGP to join the government.
The AGP-BJP alliance for the Lok Sabha poll was hammered out in a meeting here between BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, AGP president Atul Bora, NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma and BJP state president Ranjit Kumar Dass, along with others, that ended past midnight. "After discussion, BJP and AGP have decided to work together in the coming Parliament election in Assam to defeat Congress," Madhav had said on Twitter.
"Announced it at Guwahati in d presence of Himanta Biswa Sarma of BJP and Atul Bora and Keshav Mahanta of AGP. BPF will be the 3rd partner in the alliance," he tweeted. Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the seat-sharing agreement between the three parties has been finalised and a formal announcement will be made on March 16 from New Delhi after a meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah.
The Bodoland People's Front (BPF) had Tuesday announced its MLA and state cabinet minister Pramila Rani Brahma as the only candidate for the Lok Sabha polls from the sensitive Kokrajhar seat. Talking to reporters after sealing the alliance, Bora said both the former allies had joined hands again to "defeat the Congress".
On January 7 this year, the AGP had withdrawn its support to the BJP government in Assam in protest against the Centre's decision to go ahead with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. At a joint media address after the meeting, Sarma, Bora and Dass said the two parties will resolve their differences over the bill by consultation and consensus.
"The two parties decided that as the new Citizenship Bill will come in the new Lok Sabha and both BJP and AGP will get time, the two partners will discuss how to sort out the differences and safeguard the interest of Assam. As of today, the BJP is firm in its stand and we do not want the AGP also to change their position. We will discuss it in the next two months," Sarma said. "Our stand on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill remains the same since the Jana Sangh days and there is no need to review it. The people of Assam and India know what is the stand of the BJP on the bill," he added.
Bora too said that there were some issues and those would be sorted out amicably through discussion. "We now fully convinced that the three parties will be able to defeat the Congress in the election. In the coming days, the misunderstanding and the clash over the Citizenship Bill will be resolved through consultation and consensus... We kept our commitment and now there is no bill," he added.
Asked about the charged animosity between ground workers of two parties in the last two months, Sarma said: "There are difficulties as the AGP and the BJP fought separately in the panchayat polls. There is a strain in our relationship during the last two months, but we have a common a goal to defeat Congress." He added that Dass and Bora will jointly address the workers of the BJP and the AGP at various places in Assam from Thursday.
"I think that the two leaders' presence will motivate the ground level workers in the districts and we will be successful. There are of course problems and we have discussed it," Sarma said, without elaborating further. The senior BJP leader asserted that the people of Assam gave their mandate to all the three parties of the alliance in 2016 and there should not be any issues on that.
"We will complete this term smoothly. From now on, BJP state president Ranjeet Dass and AGP president Atul Bora will hold frequent talks to avoid any differences. We have reached a firm conclusion that we have to run the government and give very good governance to the people," Sarma said. Talking about Tuesday night's meeting, Dass said they were given the example of the Shiv Sena and the BJP forming an alliance despite having severe differences.
"Here in Assam, we don't have any clash. It was just an ideological issue regarding the Citizenship Bill. We will settle our differences over CAB through dialogue in the coming days... We will for sure win 12 seats," he added. On Monday night, the AGP MLAs had held a discussion over realigning with the BJP, but the meeting remained inconclusive. They went into a huddle again on Tuesday night and decided to go ahead with the alliance.
The AGP was bitterly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Citizenship Bill that sought to grant Indian citizenship to various non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who fled religious persecution in their countries, after six years of residence in India even if they did not possess any documentary proof. The AGP called it a "communal" piece of legislation aimed at settling Bangladeshi Hindus in Assam which, it claimed, was detrimental to the interests of the indigenous people. The BJP-AGP-BPF alliance had defeated the Congress in the 2016 assembly polls, bringing to an end its unbroken stint of 15 years in power.
(With inputs from agencies.)