The most controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB-16) is on the threshold of becoming an Act to pave the way for hoards, nay lakhs (and who knows may be crores in the coming decades) of Hindu Bangladeshis to become Indian citizens at the cost of irreparable damage to be suffered by the indigenous people of Assam and the North-east on the demographic, social, political, economic, cultural and communal harmony fronts. In the process, the historic Assam Accord, that has set midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for the detection, deletion of names (from voters’ list) and deportation of foreigners, is being savagely kicked towards the dustbin of history. On its part, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) played the worst form of farce in the guise of obtaining the views of the stakeholders and holding proper discussion with the members of the Committee prior to submission of its report. The result being that the Bill finally found its way to the Lok Sabha without any change.
On the other hand, it may be pertinent to state at this juncture by way of records, that with the people taking to the streets in lakhs in Assam and several NE States demanding withdrawal of the CAB-16 during the course of 2018, the State as well as the central BJP heavyweights virtually maintained a low key on the issue all along. Even the JPC led by a BJP heavyweight virtually went into hibernation while several amendments to the Bill proposed by some JPC members belonging to the opposition remained pending in the matter of hearing and discussion. Several central top brass of the BJP, including a BJP MP from Assam, opined that there was no possibility of the Bill being tabled in the Parliament in the Winter Session. Again, it may be recalled that Dispur was not at all keen on holding the recent Panchayat polls. The general view is that the saffron brigade could be sensing defeat in view of the massive protest against the Bill. One should not forget that the Dispur Czars were compelled to hold the polls to the rural bodies in compliance with the Gauhati High Court order to this effect.
While political observers were of the view that the BJP-led Modi Government would in all probability take to the ordinance route, in came the shot in the arm for the BJP that catapulted the entire saffron brigade to be on its toes in respect of the Bill. Amidst roars of protest against the CAB-16, the announcement of the Panchayat polls results set on records that the rural folks voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP, causing all protest against the Bill to come a cropper so far as the BJP is concerned.
While the thumping victory in the rural polls might have taken even the BJP by surprise for a while, it was just natural that armed with such massive support extended by rural Assam, and that too when protest against the Bill was turning virtually into a daily affair in Assam, any party would find itself rejuvenated, reinforced and re-energized. In short, it was the rural folks that provided the much needed fuel and tonic to an otherwise depleted BJP to be on its feet and kicking.
The emerging scenario being that the BJP nonchalantly turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the mounting protest against the Bill in Assam and racing against time and backed by a brute majority in the House, the ruling party effected the passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha at lightening speed.
Seemingly for the BJP, that has its entire agenda based on aggressive Hindutva and the apparently aiming at multiplication its Hindu vote bank with votes of Hindu Bangladesh nationals who become Indians after the Bill becomes an Act, the present CAB-16 could be a case of ‘lest now or never’. While the urbanites and semi-urbanites are openly up against the Bill, the BJP has its own answer that the rural populace are fully satisfied with its performance and programmes, including the issue of the Bill. Whether one likes it or not, rightly or wrongly (take your pick), the rural folks sent the signal that they are supportive of the BJP’s agenda. As of now, it is natural for the BJP to argue that the people of rural Assam are not against the Bill. Again, it is the rural votes that matter the most to all political parties.
As of now, having made its way through the Lok Sabha, thanks to the brute majority of the ruling party reinforced with its whip to the party MPs, the CAB-16 is in the domain of the Rajya Sabha which will reassemble on January 31. While discussion on the Bill is a mere formality, the all important factor is ‘managing’ of the required number by the ruling party. While the BJP is significantly short of the magic number to get the Bill passed in the Upper House. It now remains to be seen if it succeeds in ‘managing’ to rope in support of some opposition MPs in favour of the Bill. Perhaps it needs no mention that in ‘managing’ support, all means, fair or foul, could be adopted.
Meanwhile, protest against the Bill burgeoned by leaps and bounds across Assam and the North-east since the day the CAB-16 was tabled in the Lok Sabha. As of now, about a hundred organizations in Assam are engaged in various kinds of protest programmes against the Bill and the same may burgeon to the extent of turning ‘heaven and earth’ once the Magh Bihu celebration is over in Assam.
The ruling dispensation has clearly demonstrated that public protest or opinion hardly means anything to it. With a view to crushing all protests, the Government is beginning to openly display a fascist face. In Tripura the Government took to wanton firing on indigenous tribal protesters opposing the Bill. As per reports, a NESO team that rushed to Tripura to take stock of the situation were not allowed to visit the incident site or meet the protesters who sustained bullet injuries in hospital(s). The general contention is that the BJP Government in Tripura is trying to cover up its misdeeds or buying time to wipe out all evidence of its action. In Assam too, the fascist image of the ruling dispensation has come to the fore with the labeling of serious criminal charged against frontline intellectual Dr Hiren Gohain, KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi and noted journalist and public activist Manjit Mahanta. Their only ‘crime’ is that they vehemently opposed the Bill in public forum in the most peaceful and democratic manner. Fortunately, for the people of Assam, the Gauhati High Court came to the rescue of the three public activists by granting them interim bail. However, the message sent by the Czars of Dispur to the people through their action against Dr Gohain and others is crystal clear. As is the lifeline of fascism, the powers that be in Dispur are not prepared to tolerate any democratic descent or protest against it.
While it is crystal clear from the Bill that the demography, culture, communal harmony, languages and the like of the indigenous people of Assam and the NE are likely to be adversely hit and may turn upside down after the Bill becomes an Act, it is indeed a matter of serious concern as to what may be in store for the people of Assam and the North-east in the years ahead. One thing is certain. Crores in the North-east are a highly disturbed lot over the CAB-16 while some are purportedly passing sleepless nights. While in the post Bihu days the stir against the Bill is expected to intensify many-fold, it may not be surprising if the Government takes to display its fascist character a lot more aggressively to suppress popular descent.