The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) pulled out of the BJP-led coalition government in Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Bill after its "last-ditch attempt to convince" the Centre to withdrew the proposed legislation failed on Monday.
Announcing the decision after a meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi, AGP president Atul Bora said, "We tried to convince the Centre that the bill was against the Assam Accord and will nullify the ongoing updating of the National Register of Citizens...But Singh told us clearly that it will be passed in Lok Sabha tomorrow. After this, there is no question of remaining in the alliance."
The proposed legislation seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Withdrawal of the AGP, which has 14 MLAs in the 126-member assembly, will not have any immediate effect on the future of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government that still has the backing of 74 MLAs.
The BJP has 61 members and the party has support from 12 MLAs of the Bodoland People's Front and the sole Independent member. The opposition Congress and the All Indian United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have 25 and 13 members respectively.
The AGP had three ministers, including Bora, in the state.
Later, Bora told a television channel, "We felt betrayed at the BJP's attitude towards the bill as when we entered into the alliance, we were convinced Prime Minister Narendra Modi was committed to resolve the issue of illegal migrants...We never dreamt that the BJP could do this to the people of Assam. We now regret entering into an alliance with the BJP."
He also rued that Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal refused to meet them when they had sought an appointment to discuss the issue with him as "probably he could not face us".
"We made a last-ditch attempt today to convince the Centre not to pass the bill. But Singh told us clearly that it will be passed in Lok Sabha tomorrow," Bora said, adding Singh was requested not to ignore the public sentiment only for votes but it is unfortunate that they did not listen.
In a statement here earlier in the day, AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said the party would withdraw support to the government in the state if the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 is passed by Lok Sabha.
The bill seeks to amend Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian citizenship to people from minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don't possess any proper document.
The bill has been opposed by large sections of people and organisations in the Northeast.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and a few other parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill claiming that citizenship can't be given on the basis of religion and that it is unconstitutional.
There was widespread protests in the state against the bill and, for the first time, the media was also out on the street to register their protest against it, the Assam agriculture minister claimed.
A party meeting was held in Guwahati on January 4 on the issue and it was decided that if the bill is passed in Lok Sabha, "we will withdraw support to the government in the state," Mahanta said earlier in the day.
The three AGP ministers and a senior party MLA had gone to New Delhi to meet the prime minister who is yet to give them an appointment. The leaders, however, met Rajnath Singh.
The AGP with 14 seats in the assembly had entered into an alliance with the BJP before the 2014 polls and was opposed to the Citizenship Amendment Bill since the beginning.
The AGP has no MP in Lok Sabha or in Rajya Sabha.
The AGP had placed its reservations on the bill before the Joint Parliamentary Committee when the panel had visited the state and also tried to mobilise opinion against the bill among NDA constituents such as the JD(U) and the Shiv Sena, and opposition parties.
Bora said the AGP is thankful to the parties who supported it and opposed the bill.
"We had met the prime minister, the home minister and the JPC chairman and requested all to withdraw the bill. We thought that being in the government, we can convince the central leadership not to pass it," he said.
"We had categorically said that we will not allow the bill to be passed at any cost and tried till the last moment," he added.
Urging the people of Assam to join in the fight for existence, Bora said the party will announce their next course of action after reaching Assam.