Massive Protests in Assam as BJP Pushes Controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

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Protests in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. —  PTI file

Abdul Gani | Caravan Daily

GUWAHATI — A new wave of protests including nude demonstration have hit New Delhi and northeast India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave green signal to the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Although hundreds of groups and organisations have been vehemently opposing the controversial bill which endorses citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from the neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have come here up till December 31 of 2014, the Prime Minister during an election rally in the Silchar district said that the bill would be passed soon in the Parliament.

The move, less than six months ahead of 2019 General Elections, has brought out thousands of people and groups across the state on the streets. On Monday a group of 12 men staged naked protests in New Delhi opposing the bill which was tabled in the parliament.

“This is high time. We are on the verge of doom. I thank these men for taking the extreme step of these nude protests. This bill, if passed, will bring doom to us,” said Akhil Gogoi, advisor of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), an influential peasants’ body of the state which took the lead in the protest.

Gogoi said that the bill is against the very characteristics of the Constitution of India which is secular. “How can the illegal citizens be divided in the name of religion! This is dangerous. The BJP is doing this to woo the Bengali Hindu voters ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019,” said Gogoi who has been vocal against the bill ever since it was first tabled in 2016 in the parliament.

All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), one of the most powerful students’ bodies of the region also observed January 7 as a ‘Black Day’ when the bill is being tabled.

Thousands of AASU activists have burnt the dummy copies of the bill across the state.

“The Centre and the BJP government have not paid any heed to our demands. They want to bring illegal foreigners on the basis of religion. We will not accept it any cost and we will continue our agitations till it’s scrapped,” said AASU advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.

Besides, scores of individuals and groups have marched on the streets and hoisted black flags in several places across the state.

A number of groups including senior citizens have participated in the ‘Black Day’.

“Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal is shameless. He is selling the people of Assam to the BJP,” said Palash Changmai, another student leader of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP).

On January 8, North East Students’ Organisations (NESO), the umbrella body of all the major students’ associations of the Northeast region has also called for an 11-hour strike.  

The bill was sent for review after it was tabled in the Parliament in 2016 for the first time to Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).  

On January 7, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a key ally and coalition partner of the ruling BJP in Assam, also came out of the alliance and the government after the saffron party decided to table the bill in the parliament.

AGP founder president and former two-time Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said that the party has already decided to break the alliance.

“It’s enough. We have already decided that we shouldn’t be in the alliance,” Mahanta said taking part in a protest rally.

AGP present Atul Bora who met Modi’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on January 7, said that it’s unfortunate that the BJP didn’t listen to the voice of people.

“We have met almost everyone including the JPC, President, Prime Minister but nothing worked out. We tried our best to staying with the government but unfortunately it didn’t happen as the BJP didn’t want to listen to the people. So, we had to leave the alliance,” said Bora.

If the bill is passed, it would nullify the Assam Accord and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Assam Accord which was signed in 1985 after a six-year long agitation to drive out the illegal migrants, says that anyone whoever has come here after March 25 of 1971 irrespective of their religion, caste and creed is an illegal citizen.

Most of the groups and organisations support the cut-off date of March 25 1971. However, a small number of groups in the Bengali dominated Barak valley, have been supporting the bill. 

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