11 parties from the region, including JD (U) hold a convention at Guwahati. Credit: EastMojo image

Guwahati: With popular sentiment rising against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, 11 political parties — who are either key alliance partners of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in their respective states or a part of the Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) led by the saffron party, held a convention in Guwahati, Assam on Tuesday to take part in what Meghalaya chief minister and National People’s Party president Conrad K Sangma repeatedly termed as a “natural process” and not a “politically motivated one”.

The convention ‘unanimously’ passed a resolution to jointly oppose the Bill, send an all-party delegation to meet the Prime Minister and apprise him of their collective opposition to the Bill. It also decided to take up the issue with other political parties.

The all-regional-parties meeting was convened by Sangma and co-convened by former BJP ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which recently severed its ties with the Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government in Assam over the issue of the Citizenship Bill.

Apart from NPP and AGP, the meeting witnessed the participation of other major regional parties of the northeast including Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), Naga People’s Front (NPF), National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), People’s Democratic Front (PDF), Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), and United Democratic Party (UDP).

Interestingly, the Janata Dal-United (JDU), a key constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, had sent a high-level delegation to Assam comprising of secretary general KC Tyagi, party vice-president Prashant Kishor to Assam to participate in the anti-Citizenship bill convention. The JD (U) has extended its support to the AGP and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) on the issue and has even announced that it would vote against the Bill, if introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

While the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) led by the incumbent chief minister Pawan Chamling had also assured its participation and support to the convention, the regional party lacked representation, with no representative showing up for the meeting. SDF is a member of BJP minister Himanta Biswa Sarma-led NEDA, and the Northeastern state of Sikkim is going to polls in just a few months and is facing anti-incumbency.

The political bonhomie displayed by the various Northeastern parties at Tuesday’s convention might appear to some as an attempt to present an alternative political front from the Northeast, countering the national parties led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), NDA, or for that matter the NEDA.

But, even as the political bigwigs addressing a presser just after the meeting maintained that they vehemently opposed the Bill, none of the party leaders hinted or spoke about a possible walk out from a BJP or BJP-led NDA, NEDA alliance.

Dumping the convention as an apolitical one, the politicians dodged the question of parting ways with the saffron party.

Sangma, who heads the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Front, which consists of several regional parties, also includes BJP, said, “We are not here to make a political statement and this is not a political meeting, we felt that we must come together and oppose the bill, because of the responsibility that we have towards protecting the interest of the people of the region.”

While the coming together of political parties on one stage to oppose a bill, which gives a communal colour to the citizenship act and defies the Assam Accord, sends out a strong message to the BJP, which has piloted Citizenship Bill, and is eyeing 21 of the 25 Northeast Lok Sabha seats in the soon-to-be-held Parliamentary polls.

But it needs mention here that most of the political parties present in the meeting have been registering individual objection and protest against the controversial Bill, with AGP one of its ally in the Northeast, walking out of its alliance. AGP had even gone to Delhi to meet BJP leaders, and were told that the Central government would push to get the bill passed in the Rajya Sabha.

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