Even as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill faces protests in Assam, the state is seeing a rehash of the campaign against Badruddin Ajmal by the Himanta Biswa Sarma of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a strategy that helped the party secure a landslide victory in the 2016 Assembly polls.
The saffron party's strategy in the state heading for Assembly polls in the first half of 2021 became evident from a speech delivered by Sarma at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakhetra in Guwahati on Monday where he singled out Ajmal, the leader of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Lok Sabha lawmaker from Dhubri.
Addressing a group of party workers in the meeting, Himanta said, "Never bear in mind even for one second that passing the CAB is bad for Assam. You would see that had not we brought the CAB, 17 more constituencies would have gone to Ajmal."
During the 2016 Assembly polls Himanta Biswa Sarma said the AIUDF leader was his party's main enemy. AIUDF has 13 MLAs in Assam Legislative Assembly (of 126 MLAs) and is the third largest party in the Assembly and has been constantly projected by the BJP as a threat to the state.
Sarma had also declared that his main goal was preventing Ajmal from becoming chief minister or emerging as kingmaker, which paid off at the polls.
However, the CAB has ripped open an old fault line in Assam and threatens to divide the Assamese Hindus and Bengali Hindus. On Monday, 16 organisations in Assam called for a state-wide bandh protesting the Bill which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. A North East bandh was called on Monday by North East Students Organisation.
Little wonder then that Sarma is attempting to make opposition to Ajmal a rallying point for the BJP base in hopes of repeating the 2016 victory. Alleging that Ajmal is funding fuelling of vehicles used in anti-CAB protests, Sarma said, "The people who were seen writing Miya poetry till few days ago are now leading the movement."
He further said, "If anyone thinks that Ajmal will save Assamese culture then I have nothing to say. But at the same time Bengali Hindus should also assimilate with the Assamese society." But some say the attacks on Ajmal are nothing but a ploy to distract the public.
"Today the BJP is in power so the party is granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis. Tomorrow another party may choose to grant citizenship to Muslim immigrants. This will make Assam a dumping ground of illegal immigrants robbing the natives of their political rights and diluting their culture," said Samujjwal Kumar Bhattacharya, advisor to All Assam Students Union, the body that is leading the movement.
Abhijit Malakar, a trader in Guwahati, seemed skeptical of Sarma's claims. Malakar said, "There is adequate provision in the Assam Accord to reserve constituencies for the natives. Rather than granting citizenship to illegal Hindu immigrants why is the Centre not implementing the Accord?"
Over the past week, the BJP has faced protests against the CAB in Assam, where ministers in the cabinet of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal have been gheraoed and homes of BJP leaders and workers have been attacked by anti-CAB activists. Meanwhile, Sarma has appealed for his cadre to reach out to voters and tell them about schemes launched by the government. "Do not worry. We will win 100 seats in 2021 Assembly polls," Sarma said.