Guwahati: A day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement in favour of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, BJP ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had reiterated its stand to end the alliance if the Bill is tabled in Lok Sabha.
But, the BJP ally chose to disappear from scene on Friday as PM Modi made it clear that the government is committed to safeguarding immigrant Hindus while calling the Bill ‘an atonement of the wrong that was done during partition’.
Away from anti-Bill protests in Brahmaputra valley, PM Modi chose to kickstart the 2019 general election campaign from Barak Valley in Assam. Addressing a gathering in Silchar, the PM assured people that no genuine citizen would be left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
On Citizenship Bill, PM Modi said that his government had introduced the Bill in 2016 after a lot of deliberation and hard work.
“The Citizenship Bill is linked with emotions and to peoples’ lives. When India was divided, people who had emotions attached to their piece of land chose to settle there. But against the promises made, they were betrayed. Will India not give space to these people who were wronged?”
“I hope this Bill is passed in Parliament soon – India will safeguard all who had been victims of Partition,” he added.
Assam Finance Minister and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) Convenor, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was also present at the Prime Minister’s rally, also spoke in support of the Bill. “No Hindu can ever be called a ‘foreigner’ in India,” said Sarma.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has called for a series of agitations beginning Saturday that would involve 30 ethnic organizations demonstrating anti-Bill sentiments.
“The BJP government in Assam, and the NDA regime at Centre is for the protection of Bangladeshis – they have proved it today. This is all pre-planned. The JPC gave its nod to the Bill in haste, only to facilitate PM Modi’s Silchar rally,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, Chief Advisor of All Assam Students Union (AASU).
“They are playing a dubious game - welcoming Bangladeshis on one hand, and then talking about giving constitutional safeguards to our people as per Clause 6 of Assam Accord. This Bill will violate the cause of Assam Accord,” he added.
On the cabinet decision to form a high-level committee for examining Clause 6 of Assam Accord, former DGP Harekrishna Deka called it a well-timed move to deflect the issue of Citizenship Bill.
“The cabinet decision was well-timed. The party played the trick to lull gullible masses by seemingly offering something tangible, but actually nothing. The government will introduce the Bill to satisfy its targeted vote bank, not just in Assam, but more so in West Bengal.”
“The Panchayat election result has given satisfaction to the party that its influence in Assam’s electorate is intact and it only needs to quieten the barking dogs by offering rotten pieces of meat that would look fresh,” said Deka.
The Nagarikatwa Aain Songsudhan Birodhi Mancha or Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill led by intellectuals has also reacted strongly against Prime Minister’s statement. The forum plans to hoist a black flag on January 7, the day the Bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament, and will observe it as ‘Condemnation Day’ across Assam.
The forum has also advised newspaper publications to register protest by having a black editorial page, and television channels to go for ‘black’ protest signs showing support to the anti-Bill movement.
It has asked author and litterateur Dr Hiren Gohain to lead the movement on Monday, and has urged peasant organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) to lend support to the cause.
Earlier on December 21, Dr Hiren Gohain, Harekrishna Deka and former journalist Manjit Mahanta filed a plea in the Supreme Court on behalf of the Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill challenging rules and notifications that regularize the entry and stay in India, of people from six communities claiming to be victims of religious persecution in their own countries.
The petition claims that the entire concept of distinguishing between citizens and non-citizens on basis of religion is ‘communally altered humanitarianism’, which goes against secularism.
The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee termed Prime Minister’s announcement as a ‘lollipop’ to woo Hindu Bangladeshi voters in Barak Valley.
Former Assam chief minister and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who is one of the three signatories of Assam Accord having led the six-year-long anti-foreigners’ movement (1979-1985), also condemned Prime Minister’s statement.
“We cannot accept this. We will continue to oppose the Bill, and fight for justice. If this Bill is passed, it will dismantle the Assam Accord,” said Mahanta. Protests continued throughout Brahmaputra Valley on Friday, with various organizations opposed to the bill coming together for indigenous rights.