New Delhi: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a "divisive tool" that will damage the composite culture of the Northeast and must be immediately scrapped, two-time Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said on Thursday as massive protests against the proposed legislation rocked the region.
The CAB has been brought in to create a Hindu-Muslim divide, said the former student leader who spearheaded a six-year movement demanding deportation of illegal Bangladeshis in the late 1980s.
The state will continue to "burn" if the Modi government does not realise the seriousness of the situation and respect the sentiments of the people, the leader of the Asom Gana Parishad said.
"Every nook and corner in Assam is erupting in spontaneous protests against the black bill. The people of Assam are determined to defeat this divisive and unconstitutional tool called CAB. We will not relent till it is scrapped," Mahanta told PTI over phone from Guwahati.
Asked why several leaders of the party he had founded in 1985 are defending the CAB and why the party's alliance with the BJP is still intact, Mahanta said it is but a small group and does not reflect the AGP's views.
A number of AGP leaders have resigned from the party alleging that it has failed to stand with the people of Assam when they are facing an "existential crisis".
Mahanta also cautioned the Central government that the situation in Assam may take a "dangerous turn" and any delay in taking the right decision may cause unimaginable harm to the region.
Almost all areas in Assam's Brahmaputra Valley as well as Tripura, Meghalaya and Arunachal have witnessed violent protests against the bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim persecuted religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"The indigenous people of Assam and the Northeast are staring at an existential threat to their composite culture. The proposed law will open the floodgates of illegal foreigners to the region. We are determined to fight it out till our last breath," said Mahanta, who was Assam chief minister from 1985 to 1990 and then from 1996 to 2001.
The opposition parties as well as the agitators say the bill is against the secular fabric of India's Constitution and will allow the influx of lakhs of foreigners from these three countries into a region already "burdened" with illegal Bangladeshis.
The Lok Sabha passed the contentious bill on Monday and the Rajya Sabha cleared it on Wednesday, notwithstanding simmering anger over the issue for the last several months. The bill will become a law once President Ram Nath Kovind gives his assent.
Referring to the bill being cleared by Parliament, the former chief minister said the "majority" is not the essence of democracy.
"The home minister of the country has not been able to understand the seriousness of the issue. The CAB has been brought in to create divisions between Hindus and Muslims. Assam has been known for strong unity among all communities and the BJP is now trying to damage it," Mahanta said.
According to Mahanta, the current situation in Assam is worse than the early 1980s when the Assam movement led by him was at its peak. Over 600 student leaders lost their lives during the agitation between 1979 and 1985.
"The situation is worse and more serious now as society is being polarised systematically. People of Assam are seriously hurt and seething with anger," he said.
If the Centre does not heed the demands of people of the region, the matter will be taken up to the Supreme Court, Mahanta said.
There was widespread criticism against the Centre about four months back on the issue of the roll-out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The NRC was prepared in Assam to identify Indian citizens living in the state since March 24, 1971 or before.
Of the 3.3 crore applicants, over 19 lakh people were excluded from the final NRC which was published around three-and-a-half months back. The NRC issue drew sharp criticism from various quarters, including human rights organisations.