As Centre Gears up to Re-introduce Citizenship Bill, Northeast Groups Vow to Renew Agitation
The All Assam Students’ Union, while criticising the silent stance adopted by Assam Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal and the Asom Gana Parishad leadership at the NEDA meeting, reiterated its commitment to oppose the bill and continue its stir.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah with northeast chief ministers and seniors leaders at the NEDA Conclave. (Image credit: Twitter@AmitShah)
Guwahati: Only a few months ago, anti-government demonstrations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan had rocked Assam and other northeastern states.
The issue has now resurfaced, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently announcing that people in the region have nothing to fear as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) that the Centre attempts to reintroduce would not dilute the existing laws and regulations, including state laws, for protecting the cultural, linguistic and other rights of local people.
At the fourth conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) held in Guwahati on Monday, Shah addressed the fears expressed by a few chief ministers from the region over the Citizenship Bill and the ‘spill-over effect’ of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The North East Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP), a conglomerate of different organisations from the seven northeastern states, while welcoming Shah's assurances, also termed such efforts as “empty and misleading” and exhibiting “double standards”.
“The very concept of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is an attempt to naturalise the citizenship of illegal immigrants in the region. We strongly oppose the proposed bill in its present form that seeks to make drastic changes in the citizenship and immigration norms of the country by relaxing the criteria to become an Indian citizen,” said NEFIP leader Khuraijam Athouba.
The NEFIP comprises members from the Assam’s League of Aborigines Rights Movement, United Arunachal Indigenous People’s Forum, Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organisations, Manipur People against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, Mizo Students’ Union, Nagaland’s Joint Committee for Prevention of Illegal Immigrants, and Twipra Social Organisations’ Solidarity.
“We appeal to the leadership at the Centre not to take the northeast indigenous people for a ride with rhetorical assurances, but to address our concerns with all seriousness and with a pragmatic approach,” Athouba added.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), while criticising the silent stance adopted by Assam Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leadership at the NEDA meet, reiterated its commitment to oppose the bill and continue its agitation.
“The people of Assam are not fools. We will continue to oppose the Bill with the help and support of the indigenous people and in the coming days launch an even stronger anti-bill agitation,” said AASU General Secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi.
Speaking at the NEDA conclave, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said the northeast had fears regarding the Citizenship Bill and urged Shah to take all the states of the region into confidence before re-introducing the legislation. Sangma questioned if the Centre will bypass discussions with the states before reintroducing the Bill.
“What will happen after CAB? Will people continuously come from Bangladesh? Will there be any deadline or a continuous flow? We, in the northeast, have such fears,” said Sangma.
The Union government said the proposed Bill will have December 31, 2014, as the cut-off date and anyone arriving after this will not be granted citizenship. Shah has said the government will not let a single ‘ghuspethi’ (infiltrator) live in Assam or any other part of the country.
NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma said the Bill “will not in any way override the existing provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution or the provisions of the Inner Line Permit (ILP)".
The ILP is an official document issued by the state governments that allows inward travel of a citizen into certain areas for a limited period. It is currently in force in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The Lok Sabha had passed the CAB on January 8, but it had lapsed after failing to clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle in the Budget session of Parliament, the last before the general elections.
(With inputs from PTI)
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