Burning of effigies, multiple protest rallies, sit-in demonstrations – Assam continues to shimmer over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. After three decades, the state is witnessing non-stop agitations like those during the anti-foreigner Assam Movement in the eighties.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the sentinel of the Assam Movement, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chattra Parishad, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, students of various educational institutes have been hitting the streets in protest against the Bill.
Assam Ministers, MPs and MLAs have become the targets of protestors. The agitators are chasing, heckling and grilling the lawmakers on the Bill wherever they are spotting them. They are also showing them black flags, pasting anti-Bill posters outside their residences and gheraoing their offices and homes.
The Bill – a major Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plank – seeks to grant Indian citizenship to the people belonging to the Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Parsis who have become the victims of religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan and entered India on or before December 31st, 2014.
The six-year long Assam Movement which culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord has fixed March 24th, 1971 as the cut-off to identify illegal foreigners. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was updated based on this cut-off date.
The Bill will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 9th, 2019. The new draft of the bill’s exemptions has piqued political interest across the country with Shah offering to exempt the Inner Line Permit areas in Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh and the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura (Mizoram too has Sixth Schedule areas) in the Northeast region from the ambit of the “anti-secular” Bill.
In the 545-member Lok Sabha, the ruling BJP has 303 members and in the 245-member Rajya Sabha, it has 81 MPs. The Bill is expected to have a smooth passage in both the Houses though the agitators in Assam said that they will not “accept” the Bill under any circumstances and “will move to Supreme Court if need arises”.
The AASU, of which Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was once the president, said the Bill goes against the country’s spirit of secularism and nullifies the Assam Accord. The bill is an insult to the 860 martyrs of the Assam Agitation, AASU said slamming Sonowal for his silence and support to Bill. Ironically, it was Sonowal who had filed the petition that led the Supreme Court to repeal the ineffective Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunals) Act in 2005. The AASU then hailed him and called him ‘Jatiya Nayak’ (national hero).
The tabling of the controversial Bill assumes great significance as Union Home Minister Shah has said that the Centre will introduce the NRC exercise across the country to weed out illegal citizens but only after the Bill is passed.
Shah, in his several speeches, has insisted that minorities (Hindus), from these countries – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – should be granted Indian citizenship.
While for several decades now, the indigenous people of the Northeastern states have been living in constant fear of becoming outsiders in their own region. The protests are getting louder as the ‘Jatiya Nayak’ today is silent over the ‘Jati-destroying’ Bill.