As the Congress released its third list of 18 Lok Sabha candidates including for Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland among the North-East states, there was one name — Sushmita Dev — on the list that has brought the focus back on Congress’s stand on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
All-India Mahila Congress chief and sitting MP Sushmita Dev will seek a re-election from the Bengali-dominated Silchar seat in Assam’s Barak Valley. “I express my deep gratitude to Sonia Gandhi ji, Rahul Gandhi ji, Harish Rawat ji, Ripun Bora ji, and all members of the CEC for announcing my candidature from Silchar. Extremely grateful to Cachar District, block and booth Congress and frontals for recommending my name,” Dev tweeted after the announcement of her candidature.
While the Congress will be banking on the sentiments against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to stop the BJP from winning the 25 Lok Sabha seats across the North-East, Dev earlier created a controversy with her ‘support’ to the controversial Bill. “There is no denying that people of Barak Valley support the Citizenship Amendment Bill. And as their representative, I am inclined to consider their views,” Dev had said.
In 2014, Dev recorded a stunning victory defeating BJP veteran Kabindra Purkayastha by more than 1.2 lakh votes from the Silchar constituency, which is located in Cachar district of Assam. Silchar, a commercial hub, is also a point of origin for supply of essential commodities to neighbouring states of Mizoram, Tripura and Manipur, which witnessed major protests against the Citizenship Bill early this year. The constituency will vote in the second phase of polling on April 18.
Dev is a firebrand leader and one of the stronger voices in the opposition known for bringing women-centric issues — including the Triple Talaq bill — to the fore. But her stand on the Citizenship Bill has kept the opposition heat on the Congress in the recent past.
According to Silchar BJP MLA Dilip Kumar Paul, Dev says one thing in Delhi, something else in Dispur and altogether different thing in Silchar.
Meghalaya’s United Democratic Party (UDP), which quit the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, too, had called out her double-speak on the issue. UDP vice-president Allantry F Dkhar in a recent press conference said Congress leaders have no right to accuse other parties on the issue. “Even the current Assam Congress MP Sushmita Dev openly supported this bill,” Dkhar said.
Congress intensifies campaign
It will be interesting to see what Dev has to say on the issue in her campaign rallies in the coming days. The Congress has intensified its campaign against the BJP over the Citizenship Bill issue, especially after regional heavyweight Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) returned to NDA just weeks after walking out of the BJP-led government. “AGP re-joining BJP shows a kind of opportunistic politics which is very rare in the Assamese history. It proves that the three AGP ministers cannot live without power,” former CM and Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi recently said, adding the Congress will benefit from the anti-citizenship bill sentiment.
Ever since the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016, fissures started appearing within the Congress in Barak and Brahmaputra valleys with partymen following different lines over the issue. Assam is broadly divided into two parts — the Barak and the Brahmaputra valleys. The Bengali-dominated Barak valley mostly welcomes the Bill while people in the Brahmaputra valley oppose the legislation. The Barak Valley sends two MPs to the Lok Sabha, from Silchar and Karimganj. Silchar is dominated by Hindus while Karimganj, which shares a porous border with Bangladesh, has a Muslim majority.
Other names from the North-East on the third list of Congress candidates include sitting MP Gaurav Gogoi (Kaliabor, Assam), former Union Minister Pawan Singh Ghatowar (Dibrugarh, Assam), Swarup Das (Karimganj), Sushanta Borgaohain (Jorhat, Assam), former Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma (Tura, Meghalaya), sitting Shillong (Meghalaya) MP Vincent Pala and KL Chishi (Nagaland).