In Assam, CAA failed to hurt BJP, Cong did not benefit by opposing it
When anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests rocked Assam in December 2019 and five people were killed in police firing, it appeared the issue could damage the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition’s hopes of retaining power in the state. The results of the assembly elections on Sunday belied the dent the issue was expected to cause to the party’s base in the state.
The BJP is set to form the government for the second consecutive time in Assam. It had won two seats till 6:30 pm and was leading in 54 out of the total 126 seats. Its allies, Asom Gana Parishad, and United People’s Party, Liberal, were ahead on 11 and eight seats.
Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal, the two parties formed as an outcome of the anti-CAA protests, managed to win only one seat.
The Congress took a strong anti-CAA stance and promised it will not implement the legislation in Assam if it came to power. It was part of the party’s five guarantees to the voters. The Congress was leading on 28 seats and its ally All India United Democratic Front on 14 and Bodoland People’s Front in 2.
The BJP appeared to be in a dilemma regarding the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is set to sweep back to power. It said the CAA cannot be changed through state legislation and did not commit to its implementation in Assam. In Bengal, the BJP said it will implement the CAA if it comes to power there.
The implementation of the CAA in Assam would mean automatic citizenship for non-Muslims from Bangladesh, who came after the 1971 war, without going through the tedious NRC process.
In 2019, the Parliament passed the legislation providing automatic citizenship for non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, who came to India before December 31, 2014. The Assam Accord provides citizenship to migrants after March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date. The difference in the time frame triggered apprehension about a fresh influx of undocumented Bangladeshis into Assam. The Centre is yet to notify the rules to implement the amended law. In March, a Parliamentary committee gave the home ministry another six months to notify the rules.
The updated NRC in Assam was released in August 2019 and excluded 1.9 of the nearly 33 million people, who applied to be included in it. The BJP has rejected the list calling it faulty. It has maintained many genuine citizens got left out while illegal foreigners got included. In its manifesto for this election, BJP committed to preparing a corrected NRC to protect genuine citizens and detect undocumented infiltrators to protect Assam’s civilisation.
BJP leader Pabitra Margherita said the CAA did not have any impact on the polls. “Our party’s stand on the issue has always been clear that we support the legislation. On the other hand, the Congress, AJP, and Raijor Dal tried to mislead the public by giving the impression that 19 million people from Bangladesh would swarm into Assam if CAA was implemented. The voters did not fall for that lie.”
Congress leader Bobbeeta Sharma insisted the CAA definitely was an issue. “We believe those who are concerned about Assam still oppose it tooth and nail. In this election, there were three parties that had an anti-CAA stance. We need to get the detailed results to see if the AJP or Raijor Dal took away a portion of the anti-CAA votes.”
Kaustabh Deka, a professor of political science at the Dibrugarh University, said the BJP has been able to successfully stop the resentment against the CAA. “The party kept the debates during election campaign outside the CAA ambit.”
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, who teaches political science at the Gauhati University, said Covid-19 became the oxygen for the BJP as it was gasping for breath around the end of 2019 because of the protests against CAA and resentment against the governments in the state and Centre.
Deka said the lockdown imposed because of Covid19 was able to break down the momentum of CAA protests and it benefitted the BJP.