Citizenship (Amendment) Bill
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Despite sharp criticism by hundreds of social and political organizations, the NDA government at the Centre is still “indecisive” on keeping Assam out of the ambit of the proposed amendment of the Citizenship Act 1955.

Mass protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 gained momentum in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam from May 7 when the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) undertook a four-day long fact-finding trip to Assam and Meghalaya. The JPC is headed by BJP MP Rajendra Agrawal.

The Citizenship (Amendment Bill), which was tabled in the Parliament in 2016, seeks to grant citizenship to minorities (non-Muslims) from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014.

Under pressure, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Wednesday met Union Home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi to discuss on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 issue. After the meeting, Sonowal told the media that Singh assured him that the decision to grant citizenship to Hindu Bengalis would be taken “only after due consultation with all the stakeholders in Assam”.

Sonowal’s statement after the crucial meeting made it loud and clear that the NDA government at Centre has still not decided to keep Assam outside the ambit of the proposed amendment. The “indecisive” statement gave the agitating organizations added fuel to continue with the agitation.

Even BJP’s ally in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is now opposing the amendment as it claimed that the proposed change in the Citizenship Act of 1955 would out-rightly violate the foundation of the Assam Accord of 1985. It also threatened to wriggle out of the coalition if the act is amended.

Senior AGP leaders Atul Bora and Keshav Mahanta on Tuesday registered a formal protest with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Both Bora and Mahanta are cabinet ministers in the BJP-led coalition in Assam.

The AGP leaders told Rajnath Singh that Assam has already accepted the burden of illegal migrants up to March 25, 1971, and complained that the Centre failed to implement Clause 6 of Assam Accord in totality. The clause talks about constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.

The demand for implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord, which remained subdued for the last 33 years, is sure to snowball into a larger issue in the coming months in Assam if the Centre continues to fail to address the situation on a war-footing. Sonowal claimed to have requested Rajnath Singh to set up a committee to make recommendations to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

It is surprising as to why Sonowal could not convince Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh that any forceful attempt to include Assam in the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would mean pushing the state again to a new era of turmoil and disturbances.

Caught in a catch 22 situation, Sonowal definitely knows it well that including Assam in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will shatter BJP’s electoral prospect in the upcoming Panchayat election in the Brahmaputra Valley. Following an order by the Gauhati High Court, the Panchayat election will now be held before September 15 in Assam.

The decision on the controversial citizenship issue will also have major impact on BJP’s electoral battle in the Lok Sabha election in 2019 in Assam. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP had registered victory in seven out of the 14 seats.

Entire Brahmaputra Valley will turn into a war-zone if the Centre includes Assam in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, and the BJP will not be able to register victory in more than two to three seats.

On the other hand, if Assam is excluded from the citizenship amendment bill, BJP will suffer a beating in the Hindu-Bengali dominated Barak Valley. More than 300 representations have been submitted by various groups from Barak Valley to grant citizenship to persecuted Hindus from Bangladesh. A clear divide has emerged in the state on linguistic lines.

Even if a committee is constituted to make recommendations for implementation of Clause 6 of Assam Accord, caste-Hindu Assamese population of Assam will fight tooth and nail to derail the Centre’s move to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 as a law. The common perception is that if the bill is passed, it would pave the way for giving citizenship to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam.

Slowly, a clear divide within BJP on the citizenship issue has started to surface. Guwahati MP Bijoya Chakraborty, women wing leader Mira Borthakur and Dispur MLA Atul Bora have publicly opposed the bill. Similarly, BJP MLA from Chabua, Binod Hazarika has also threatened to resign.

At this critical juncture, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal looks nervous and helpless. He announced to step down if his government failed to protect the rights of indigenous citizens of Assam.

Despite so much of opposition in the Brahmaputra Valley, it is still not clear as to why the NDA is still fumbling to keep Assam out of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016?

Anirban Roy

Anirban Roy is Editor-in-Chief of Northeast Now. He can be reached at: editor@nenow.in