The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has ended its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam over the Citizenship Bill that the latter wants to pass. The decision was the culmination of the AGP's mobilisation against the Bill over the past few months.
According to the AGP, the Bill goes against the interests of the Ahom people as it could potentially lead to the granting of citizenship rights to Bangladeshi Hindus and their possible settlement in Assam.
The AGP's withdrawal may not be a threat to the survival of the Sarbananda Sonowal government in Assam, but it is likely to harm the BJP's prospects in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The cost of the AGP's withdrawal has two aspects: its impact in Assam and its impact nationally.
BJP May Lose Its Advantage in Assam
With the BJP expected to incur losses in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the Lok Sabha elections, it is looking towards states like Assam to make some gains. This optimism isn't without reason, given the party's impressive victory in the 2016 Assembly elections in alliance with the AGP and the Bodoland People's Front (BPF).
Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats and 126 Assembly seats. Therefore, every Lok Sabha seat has nine Assembly segments. If we combine the vote share of the BJP, AGP and BPF in the nine Assembly segments in each of the 14 seats, the NDA would be ahead in 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state. The only exceptions are: Barpeta, where the Congress has a six percent vote share lead over the BJP-AGP-BPF combine; Kalibor, the constituency of Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi, where the party has a narrow one percent lead; Karimganj and Dhubri, where Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF has a narrow lead.
But AGP's withdrawal is likely to change these equations. Based on the 2016 vote share of the parties in the segments comprising the 14 Lok Sabha seats, there are two possibilities:
- If AGP contests on its own, the BJP could lose the Jorhat Lok Sabha seat in Upper Assam as it needs the former’s votes to defeat the Congress in the seat. Jorhat is the addition to the four seats mentioned above, where it is behind anyway.
- If AGP joins hands with the Congress and transfers votes effectively, BJP could lose three more seats: Nowgong, Mangaldoi and even Gauhati, the biggest city in the state.
If the second possibility occurs, the BJP could end up winning just about six seats in Assam, one below its tally of seven in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, Assam would change from a Net Gain state for the BJP to a Net Loss state.
The AGP had in fact tested the waters by contesting alone in the Panchayat elections in December 2018, despite being part of the coalition. By that time, it had already been on a collision course with the BJP on the Citizenship Bill issue.
The BJP managed to win a little over 40 percent of the Gram Panchayat seats and about 50 percent of the Zila Parishad seats. This proportion is similar to the share of Lok Sabha seats that the BJP is projected to win in Assam after the AGP's withdrawal.
AGP The 13th Party To Quit NDA
The other reason why the AGP's withdrawal is crucial is that nationally it strengthens the narrative that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is unable to keep his allies happy. Consider this fact: the AGP is the 13th party to break ranks with the BJP since Modi became the prime minister.
Here's a list of parties that have quit the NDA in the past five years.
The list doesn't include the Shiv Sena, which is officially a BJP ally but has become one of the most vocal critics of PM Modi. Another ally, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, also makes its unhappiness known every now and then.
AGP-BJP's Erratic Past
There have been several U-turns in the AGP's relationship with the NDA. The BJP and AGP had contested the 2001 Assembly elections in alliance. But for the 2006 Assembly elections, the AGP allied with the Left Parties instead. However, it went back to the BJP-led NDA for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections only to leave it before the Assembly elections two years later.
For the 2016 Assembly elections, the AGP negotiated with both the BJP and the Congress and ended up choosing the former. It contested 30 seats and won 14 with an overall vote share of 8.1 percent.
With very little chance of winning a Lok Sabha seat on its own, it is likely that the AGP could look out for alliance partners ahead of the general elections. It has four options:
- Aligning with the Congress: The two parties have been traditional rivals but with the AGP reducing in strength over the years, a tie-up cannot be ruled out. Opposition to the Citizenship Bill could be an important common ground for the two parties to build upon.
- Reaching out to the AIUDF: Being a party of Bengali-speaking Muslims, the AIUDF is a natural opponent of the AGP. But both the parties are fighting for survival and are in danger of getting sidelined in the battle between the two big parties. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has already alleged a tacit deal between the Congress, AIUDF and AGP.
- Mending fences with the BJP: With such a bitter fallout, this possibility seems unlikely, but given the number of times the BJP and AGP have split and made up, this cannot be ruled out.
- Going solo and hoping that it can increase its base by mobilising Ahom voters on the Citizenship Bill issue.