Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal today hinted that the ruling BJP was willing to soften or tweak its stand on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill in order to make it acceptable to people from all sections of society. The remark came just two days ahead of the Lok Sabha polls' third phase on April 23, when voting will be held in four crucial seats of the state.
"The people of Assam now have some clarity on the Citizenship Bill," Mr Sonowal told NDTV on the last day of campaigning for the upcoming polls. "The road map is clear: We will hold consultations with all stakeholders in Assam and the Northeast to ensure the protection of their rights and culture. All communities will be consulted. We will protect our multi-ethnic society."
When asked if the consultations would also include Muslims, who constitute about 35% of the voters in Assam, he hinted in the positive.
The electoral battle on April 23 will be a test of popularity of the BJP and its allies in the wake of protests over the controversial bill that aims to expedite the citizenship of non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries. While opposition parties have dubbed the legislation as communal, regional groups are against favouring migrants from any religion.
The BJP has even made the Citizenship Amendment Bill an election promise.
Mr Sonowal's statement holds great political significance because migrant Muslim votes can spell the difference between victory and defeat in Dhubri, Barpeta and Kokrajhar, three of the four seats going to the polls on April 23. While BJP-affiliate Asom Gana Parishad is fielding its candidates in Dhubri and Barpeta, another ally - the Bodoland People's Front - has put up its nominee in Kokrajhar. The fourth Lok Sabha constituency of Gauhati will witness a direct fight between the Congress and BJP.
The Chief Minister, however, seemed optimistic about the outcome. "We will win all four seats in the third phase. There is simply no question of losing," he said, adding that the BJP-led alliance will emerge victorious in 12 of Assam's 14 constituencies.
Mr Sonowal also alleged a Congress conspiracy behind the recent beef-related assault of a Muslim man in Assam's Biswanath district. "It is now clear that the Congress is behind the assault. An office bearer of the NSUI (the Congress' student wing) has been arrested in this regard, and so it's apparent that the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front are trying to divide people. The BJP, on the other hand, is trying to integrate them. So, this is a battle between those trying to divide and others who are trying to integrate them," he told NDTV.
The politics of religious polarisation will lose before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's development agenda, he claimed.