The highly controversial and extra-constitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is turning politically murkier while assuming a killer look for the indigenous people of Assam and the Northeast with every passing day. Although the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is a coalition partner in the BJP-led Assam Government, launching its panchayat election campaign, the saffron party came down heavily on the regional party stating that the latter has no ‘moral right’ to oppose the obnoxious Bill. A political party in India talks of ‘moral right’ or morality! It is perhaps the greatest joke in the realm of irony across the political horizon of the country.
Be that as it may, the strategy of the BJP appears to be to project the AGP as the villain in respect of the burgeoning controversy and apparently the anti-Assam and anti-NE status that the Bill has acquired among the masses while woo the electorate in the run up to the panchayat polls. Tainting the AGP with loads of wrong doings in the past and virtually tearing the AGP to shreds, the BJP has alleged in unambiguous terms that the leaders of the historic Assam Movement had “regularised over one crore pre 1971 migrants” through the Assam Accord.
As of now the stoic silence maintained by Assam Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal on the issue of the Bill is highly mysterious and unacceptable. However, over the last few months several State BJP heavyweights have made full-throated statements in support of the Bill while seemingly being all set to offer a red carpet welcome to hoards of Hindu Bangladeshi nationals to Assam and the NE.
As per media reports, letting loose a scathing attack on the AGP leadership and putting all blame in respect of pre-1971 migrants in Assam on the regional party, the State BJP, while supporting and defending the Bill in public and attempting to vanquish all opposition to the Bill by hook or by crook, roared during panchayat electioneering, “They had brought in over one crore people (migrants).
This Bill talks about just five-seven lakh people (migrants). The AGP leaders do not have the moral right to oppose it.” The BJP has further asserted before the media that through the Assam Accord and subsequent amendment of the citizenship law, over one crore foreigners were granted citizenship during the tenure of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta as the Chief Minister of Assam.
Significantly, in the matter of the “over one crore” figure, the BJP banks on a purely hypothetical deduction and calculation. Having said that, it must be admitted by one and all that beyond any doubt lakhs of foreigners (from erstwhile East Pakistan, Bangladesh since 1971) entered Assam and the NE between 1951 and 1971 and the same has been acknowledged even at the official level. Again, while the BJP charges the AGP of having accommodated the hypothetical figure of ‘over one crore’ migrants through the Assam Accord and subsequent amendment of the citizenship law, can the saffron party and the hardcore protagonists of the Sangh Pariwar guarantee that several crores of Hindu Bangladeshi nationals are not waiting beyond the Indo-Bangla border to enter Assam and the NE once the floodgates are opened after the Bill becomes an Act?
Again, what guarantee is there that it will not be a continuous process for decades and decades to come in the interest of non-stop reinforcement of the BJP’s vote bank and realization of a Hindu Rashtra, even if it be a partial one in sheer defiance of the basic secular framework of the Constitution of India? Further, it may also be highly pertinent to state at this juncture that during the fifties and the sixties, the process of detection of citizens from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was a routine business of the then Government of undivided Assam, although success achieved was extremely marginal.
The BJP seemingly pretends to be forgetting that it was the presence of huge number of Bangladeshi nationals in Assam that gave birth to the Assam Movement with the three Ds (detection, deletion and deportation) as the principal demand of the agitationists. While the 6-year-long Assam Movement ended with the signing of the Assam Accord with midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for determination of foreigners in Assam, through the same, the agitating parties and the Union Government agreed on accommodating all pre-1971 migrants, irrespective of their religion, language or such other factor. Again history bears witness to the fact that the Accord, signed on August 15, 1985, was acceptable to all and no political party or organization expressed any opposition to it. More importantly, the BJP never uttered a single word against the Accord for over three decades till the controversial Bill cropped up in 2016.
Meanwhile, by no stretch of imagination can the Assam Accord be equated with the extra-constitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Accord is based on history and has legal, social and political sanctity. The indigenous people of the State consider the Accord as the shield for the protection of their identity and fountain head of their ‘jati, mati & bheti’ sentiment.
On the other hand, the Bill is making a lateral entry into the Parliament only because BJP is in power at the Centre with overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha. Unlike the Assam Accord, the Bill is not a product of any people’s movement, but is born of the hardcore Hindutva agenda of the BJP. While the Assam Movement witnessed crores thronging the streets across the State demanding the three Ds to make Assam free of all foreigners (read as Bangladeshi nationals irrespective of religion), as of now, crores are opposing the Bill almost on a daily basis across Assam and also the North-eastern States. It is crystal clear that the two documents stand poles apart and by putting the Accord and the Bill on the same footing, the ruling party could seemingly be aiming to nullify the 35-year old Accord and dump the same in the dustbin of history.
Meanwhile, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Bill is yet to take off from square one after having openly discriminated the Brahmaputra Valley in the matter of public hearing and presently appears to be a bundle of confusion and contradiction. On the other hand, the BJP focus is glued on the one-point agenda of getting the Bill passed in the Parliament by any means at its disposal. While its coalition partner, the AGP, has been opposing the Bill from the word go, the attack on the regional party by the saffron brigade was very much a foregone conclusion in the politically conscious circle.
Whereas the AGP opposes the Bill, it defies all logic as to how it could be a part of the Ministry headed by the BJP, the architect of the obnoxious Bill. On this count the AGP owes an explanation to the people as to which is more important to the party – the interest of the indigenous people as exhibited through massive opposition to the Bill, or the luxury, comfort and power entailing ministerial berths.
The AGP must remember that one cannot eat the cake and have it. Accordingly it must make it clear as to which boat it is perched on – the boat of the indigenous people or the saffron boat. A vague answer like mandate of the people to share power with the BJP may sound meaningless in the backdrop of the emerging threat to the very existence and identity of the indigenous people posed by the extra-constitutional Bill.
Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org