Citizenship Bill
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For last four years they kept us busy with this nonsensical and divisive Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

The movement against CAB initially started in Assam and then slowly spread out to the rest of the Northeast. In the recent past, we saw its militancy in other parts of the Northeast.

Of late Manipur as a whole and Imphal in particular became so tense. Almost everything came to a standstill.

A few days ago in Mizoram they waved flags saying ‘Hello China; and Bye Bye India’.

But, the BJP led Central Government didn’t relent and was hell bent on passing it. In Assam, except the BJP, everybody was against the bill.

10-02-19 Guwahati- Yashwant Sinha speech (3)
Former union finance minister Yashwant Sinha delivering speech on ‘State of the Nation and The way Forward organized by Asom Nagarik Samaj at Pragjyoti ITA, Machkhowa in Guwahati on February 10, 2019. Image by UB Photos
Former union finance minister Yashwant Sinha delivering speech on ‘State of the Nation and The way Forward organized by Asom Nagarik Samaj at Pragjyoti ITA, Machkhowa in Guwahati on February 10, 2019. Image by UB Photos

Let me narrate an incident. Yashwant Sinha, former finance and external minister of India was in Guwahati recently. He came here being invited by the civil society organization Axom Nagarik Samaj.

During his stay, he had a meeting which was attended by almost all non-party oppositional organisations of Assam who are vociferously fighting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. For more than an hour the representatives of these organizations and leading individuals explained Sinha why people of Assam were fighting against the CAB. They spoke about the apprehension it created in the minds of Assamese people. People who participated in the discussion included Samujjal Bhattacharya, Basanta Deka, Kamal Narayan Choudhury, Chandrakanta Das, D N Saikia, Arup Borbara, Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, Haidar Hussian, Anuradha Dutta, Prasanta Rajguru, Santanu Borthakur, Maini Mahanta, Akhilranjan Dutta, Maur Bora, Dudulmoni Sarmah, Nagibuddin Ahmed, Siddheswar Das and this author.

All the speakers spoke about the communal and anti-constitutional nature of the bill and the prevailing sense of alienation among the people of Assam and the Northeast from the rest of India. It was also pointed out that if by ignoring the concerns and protests from all sections of the people, New Delhi passed the CAB, there would be serious dissension among people in Assam and the Northeast which might again revive secessionism in the region.

Yashwant Sinha keenly listened to what everyone had to say and then responded briefly. He said: “I could see how aggrieved you all are. The situation in the Northeast is alarming and similar to the situation in Kashmir and it is only one shade behind it. But, you should remember that this indifference is only on the part of the government. People in general are concerned about you. In my limited capacity I shall speak about this to all the leaders of the political parties in Delhi. I have already spoken to a number of them and I am confident that the CAB will not be passed in Rajya Sabha.”

So everybody thought that CAB would not be listed in the items and bills to be discussed in the Rajya Sabha. In the meeting of the opposition with the government, it was not even discussed. Nor was it discussed in the Business Advisory Committee of the House. But suddenly Government brought it on February 11 night. However, fearing such a sudden move leaders of anti- CAB movement were camping at Delhi lobbying with the opposition political parties.

February 12 was really a tense day for the people of Assam and the Northeast. It was the only subject discussed inside and outside homes.

Finally in the face of agitating Northeast and a tough stand taken against the bill by the combined opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the government didn’t dare to bring in the CAB in the Rajya Sabha and now the bill will die its natural death in June before the formation of the next Loka Sabha.

I am not writing something which the readers don’t know already. But why was BJP doing all these? Except the BJP everyone was opposed to the bill from the beginning. The BJP brought this bill with the singular motive of capturing the Hindu votes. They became more desperate about the bill after the results of the three Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

They understood it well that their prospect of winning the next general elections is very bleak. There is no hope in Hindi mainland. The south is of course not their forte. They tried desperately for making some inroads in Kerala, but realized that it would not pay them any electoral dividend in the near future. This citadel of Left is different from that of West Bengal. Then where lies the hope? It is only in the Northeast. So you have been witnessing so much activities of the BJP in the recent months and years in the Northeast including West Bengal.

The effects of partition are yet to ebb in this part of the country. BJP is trying their best to cash in on it. They don’t have any issue for the voters except this Hindu-Muslim divide. That is why they are shouting from the rooftops that they want to rehabilitate the persecuted Hindus of the neighbouring countries in India by brining the CAB.

In his recent visit we saw how desperately Prime Minister Narendra Modi was advocating the CAB. But, perhaps for the first time he also faced unprecedented protests from the people Assam. People in the Northeast are economically weak, but culturally sensitive. Though on power equation, the smaller regional parties have come to an understanding with the BJP, the ruling party at the Centre, but they are against its monolithic Hindutva ideology. The economic weakness is compensated by the strong assertion of cultural identity.

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at:

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