Thousands protest controversial citizenship bill in India's Assam

Frederick Owens
January 9, 2019

The AASU has called for a statewide "bandh" and it is being supported by the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which withdrew support to the BJP-led government in Assam on Monday.

Troubles for the BJP are expected to mount in the northeastern states as the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday may trigger a negative sentiment ahead of the general elections this year. Assam's people will never allow this bill to be implemented.

While speaking in Silchar, Assam on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated the Centre's commitment to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

It referred to the understanding arrived at prior to the Assam Assembly election, 2016, and said the AGP had made a decision to go for the alliance during a discussion with the BJP in New Delhi on "the basis of clear understanding of the Assam Accord, other major issues of Assam, including the seat adjustments".

He said for AGP, "peoples' interest and not power was important and we tried our best till the last to ensure that the bill was not passed but when Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted that it will passed, we could not remain in the government and had to withdraw". "It is the BJP which is responsible for AGP's quitting the alliance and they should step down immediately", said Mahanta.

Samujjal Bhattacharyya from NESO said people in the region would not "accept the political injustice perpetrated by the BJP".

This was an election promise of the BJP in 2014. The BJP has 61 MLAs and its other regional ally, the Bodoland People's Front, which has assured its continuous support, has 13. These states feel that the Bill needs to be opposed in "a bid to save their indigenous communities from extinction". "There is a divisive nature to this bill and the draft committee has shot down all suggested amendments", Professor Sougata Roy, a member of parliament from Trinamool Congress, said during the protest.

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"We decided for an alliance with the BJP based on understanding on the Assam Accord and other issues".

The Congress, TMC, CPI (M) and a few other parties were steadfastly opposing the bill claiming citizenship can not be given on basis of religion, as India is secular.

Meanwhile, member organisations of the NESO in other states such as Mizo Zirlai Pawal (MZP), All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union (AAPSU), Khasi Students Union (KSU), Garo Students Union (GSU), Naga Students' Federation (NSF), All Manipur Students Union (AMSU) and Twipra Students Federation (TSF) are also supporting the bandh. The bill relaxes this 11-year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the all the six religions from the three countries.

The Bill provides for according Indian citizenship to the the Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 years even if they do not possess any document. The Assamese now feel this bill - giving citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh - will make a large section of illegal immigrants claimants to the state's resources.

The opposers also feel that the Bill undermines the ongoing updation of the 1951 National Registry of Citizenship (NRC), which, like the Assam Accord, also uses the March 24, 1971 cut-off date to determine a list of Assamese citizens.

Besides Opposition parties, Bharatiya Janata Party's allies Shiv Sena and JD (U) would also oppose the Bill in Parliament.

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