Protest against citizenship bill
Protest against Citizenship Bill. File image - Northeast Now

The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha has just got underway and as per a notification issued by the ministry of parliamentary affairs, several Bills that had lapsed during the last Lok Sabha session are likely to make way to the Parliament once again along with some other ordinances in the current session.

The people of Assam, and the Northeast for that matter, are well versed about the fact that one of the Bills that lapsed in the last session of the Parliament following its failure to register its passage in the Rajya Sabha was the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

However, according to media reports, the Union government is unlikely to bring in the contumacious Bill in the ongoing Budget session.

With a massive mandate under its belt, the ruling BJP cannot be in any way bothered about the passage of the Bill in the Lower House. However, the think tank of the saffron brigade has seemingly not forgotten the lesson it has learnt during its last attempt to get the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha.

While as of now the BJP and its allies do not have the required strength in the Upper House for the passage of the Bill, it is clear as daylight that it is only a matter of time before the ruling alliance commands majority in the Rajya Sabha too. The ruling dispensation further enjoys the advantage of all the time in the world. The five year term of the Union Government has just begun and it is almost a certainty that much sooner than later the BJP brigade would muster the required majority in the Rajya Sabha. That in turn would definitely ensure the passage of any Bill without any roadblock.

Now that it is virtually clear that the Bill would not be introduced in the current session of the Parliament, the BJP think-tank may accordingly advice the leadership to wait till the required strength in the Upper House is mustered on its own by the ruling front.

Be that as it may, the writing is on the wall that it is only a matter of time before the CAB re-surfaces in the Parliament and registers a passage as easy as a cake walk through both the Houses.

It may be recalled that for over a year till the Bill lapsed last year, the Northeast with Assam in the forefront took to massive protest against the Bill by way of millions taking to the streets. However, all that is seemingly set to go down in history as insignificant flashes in the political cauldron of the State.

At this stage the records need to be put straight. It is the strength of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha that stood a roadblock for the Bill in the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha. The ground reality is that street protests in Assam and elsewhere proved to be futile on that count.

However, as of now it is a changed scenario. Through its mandate, the people of Assam and to some extent the Northeast have spelt out their mind of being one with the BJP. Earlier, during the panchayat polls in Assam held in the backdrop of massive protests against the Bill, the people, more particularly of upper Assam known for its indigenous population, overwhelmingly voted for the BJP.

Again, while the BJP has highlighted the Bill in its poll manifesto and beginning with BJP heavyweights like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party chief Amit Shah and others during the 2019 election campaign made it clear to all in Assam and the Northeast that the Bill would be re-introduced if voted to power at the Centre.

From that standpoint, it can be argued that Bill was projected as a kind of referendum before the people of the region during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. And for sure the people of Assam voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. For all practical purposes, logically it may be argued that every vote for the BJP was also a vote for the CAB. In this regard, the support extended to the ruling dispensation was definitely a lot more pronounced in Upper Assam and South Assam than in central and lower Assam.

Now that the Bill is sure to resurface, it is also a certainty that some people would stage protest in the State in the days to come. In view of the overwhelming support accorded by the people of Assam to the BJP in the last Lok Sabha polls and that too in the backdrop of the Citizenship Bill, it may be pertinent to question if the people of Assam still have any moral right to oppose the Bill.

To set statistics straight, 9 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats of Assam are in the BJP kitty. In terms of percentage, people in 64.3 percent of Lok Sabha constituencies extended full support to the BJP that held the CAB as its trump card during the 2019 polls.

Another important aspect that should not be lost sight of is the fact that many of the so-called leaders who were in the forefront during the year-long protest against the Bill, vanished into thin air no sooner had the Election Commission of India announced the 2019 polls. The question arises as to what caused them to disappear.

These leaders may furnish the explanation that they were heading non-political organisations and had nothing to do with elections. However, the fact remains that the BJP had openly displayed the Bill as its trump card during the polls and yet the so-called anti-CAB leaders did not come out of their hibernation to even speak a word against the Bill. Further, some such leaders had campaigned for selected candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Obviously, the conscious circle is beginning to wonder if these so called leader were ‘managed’ by the pro-CAB moneyed lobby.

Significantly, many of these leaders have not gathered the guts to even appear before the press which earlier they used to do even at the drop of a hat. Some such leaders, of course, have begun appearing before the press or the public very sparingly on issues that have nothing to do with the CAB.

However, with public memory being utterly short and bereft of critical analysis, it is almost a certainty that these leaders who specialize  in playing the vanishing trick would again start drawing crowds once they fully come out of their hibernation. And protest they certainly would over mundane issues.

On the other hand, while the Bill becoming an Act is seemingly an absolute certainty, the writing on the wall reads loud and clear on the flow of Hindu Bangladeshis to Assam. On this count even an iota of blame cannot be labeled against the BJP and its allies.

While on the earlier occasion massive protest voices were raised against the BJP-led ruling dispensation, on this occasion the BJP was transparent throughout its electioneering in Assam that the Bill would be brought in again. The people knew it; perhaps they liked it too and accordingly voted overwhelmingly for the BJP.

Now that the Bill becoming an Act and advent of Hindu Bangladeshi nationals to the State looms large perhaps as a permanent and continuing feature, it is perhaps time that the locals start preparing roadmaps to adjust to the possible changing scenario on all fronts – social, political, economic, cultural, religious – and of course in the matter of land adjustment.

The conscious circle may be worried if the present generation or the next would be witness to gradual disappearance of the great socio-cultural heritage handed over to the indigenous population by the great saint and the greatest son of the soil Mahapurush Sri Sri Sankardeva. Well, history, for that matter – past, present or even would be history – must bear testimony of all aspects – good, bad and ugly.

Talmizur Rahman

Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at rahmantmz5@gmail.com

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