Guwahati: Assam is witnessing an unprecedented series of protests with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Different organisations have launched an anti-Bill movement in Brahmaputra valley, ratcheting up pressure on the government to reconsider its decision of granting Indian citizenship to ‘persecuted’ non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Bill is all set to be tabled in Parliament on January 7 – with Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling it “an atonement for the wrong done during India’s partition”.
Meanwhile, the Forum Against Citizenship Act (Amendment) Bill plans to hoist a black flag on Monday, observing ‘Condemnation Day’ across Assam.
School and college students have been rallying against the Bill, as have farmers and members of different groups. Despite the state government’s ongoing rhetoric about providing constitutional safeguards to the people of Assam as per Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, protests against the Modi government continued across Assam. Those in Brahmaputra Valley see it as a move to endorse Hindus from Bangladesh who migrated to Assam after 1971.
Prime Minister Modi’s announcement in Saturday’s public rally at Silchar has dealt a significant blow to the public image of Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal who was accorded the status of ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (Hero of the Assamese Community) for his role in getting the IMDT Act scrapped. Chief Minister Sonowal was shown black flags on Sunday when his convoy made way to Chowkidingee Field in Dibrugarh district - he was to attend a public programme organised by Ahom Sabha, a social organization. Protesters shouting “Sarbananda, Go Back” were detained by police.
Meanwhile, members of the high-level committee under the chairmanship of retired IAS officer of Assam cadre MP Bezbaruah have voiced their dissatisfaction.
“I don’t agree with this system – it’s just a way to expand vote bank so as to come back to power. I really don’t wish to be in this committee, and be reduced to a non-performing member. It’s a ploy to have a few of us in a committee, only to let others do what they wish,” said Dhiren Bezbaruah, founder-editor of The Sentinel newspaper.
Former Presidents of Assam Sahitya Sabha, Nagen Saikia and Rongbong Terang have also disapproved the proposed system.
“I have never done anything, or participated in any issue that would hurt the sentiments of people of Assam,” said Saikia.
“I have no special knowledge on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. I wonder why they have entrusted me with such a heavy responsibility – I am just an ordinary man,” remarked Padma Shri awardee, Rongbong Terang.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has refused to send a representative as member of the Committee.
“The government has betrayed us all. They have violated Clause 5 of the Assam Accord and talking about Clause 6. We will not accept that,” said Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, AASU General Secretary.
Clause 5.8 of the Assam Accord states that foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law.
And after all criticism, a six-member delegation of the Asom Gana Parishad are camping in New Delhi, a day ahead of tabling the Bill in Lok Sabha. Speaking to media persons at Assam Bhawan, AGP president Atul Bora said that the Shiv Sena has extended support to the party in their bid to block the passage of the Bill.
Even as the BJP-ally supported AASU’s call for Assam Bandh on January 8, the leadership balked at the decision to break ties with the BJP.
“It just takes a moment to break all ties. In just a few days, everything will be clear,” said Bora.
Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi lambasted PM Narendra Modi over his promise of a Bangladeshi-free Assam.
"It was Narendra Modi who had announced, during BJP’s election campaign in 2016, that Assam would be free of illegal immigrants. Now, he is ready to give a red-carpet welcome to Bangladeshi infiltrators."
Earlier in the day, a group of protesters from Women’s Society of Assam gathered outside the state BJP headquarters in Guwahati, holding banners and chanting slogans – “Down with the Government – Down with the system.”
Over the next few days, the public outcry against the Bill and the government’s commitment to impose it on Assam is only expected to grow louder with a series of protests and blockades lined up.