Thousands Protest Citizenship Bill in India's Assam

Blanche Robertson
January 9, 2019

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on January 8 accused Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal of "not cooperating" on the Citizenship Amendment Bill and giving due respect to the emotions and interests of the Assamese people.

The move by the AGP came within hours of the presentation in Lok Sabha of a report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee examining the bill that was first introduced in Parliament in 2016.

AGP president Atul Bora announced the decision after a meeting with Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Bill, 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 and aims to give citizenship to Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Jain and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The AGP and other groups in Assam claim that the provisions of the bill will nullify the 1985 Assam Accord, which provides for deportation of all illegal migrants, irrespective of religion, who had entered the state after March 1971.

Protests have erupted in recent months and on Monday in Assam, where a movement against illegal immigrants, of all religions, from Bangladesh has simmered for decades, with some residents blaming them for eating into their resources and job opportunities.

The AGP had three ministers, including Bora, in the state. If the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed and Hindu immigrants are granted citizenship, it would mean Muslims are being specifically targeted through NRC.

"The Citizenship Bill is an atonement of the wrong that was done during India's partition".

"It is very unfortunate that this bill has been passed; this is something which we have been opposing vehemently and as a cabinet also had passed a resolution that we will oppose any kind of implementation of this bill", Conrad told media persons today in Shillong.

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The north-eastern States shut down on Tuesday against the "anti-indigenous people" Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that the Union Cabinet cleared on Monday for approval by Parliament. "We now regret entering into an alliance with the BJP", Bora later told reporters.

In their dissent note, Congress Rajya Sabha members Bhubaneswar Kalita and Pradip Bhattacharya said on certain grounds, the bill may create ethnic divisions in Assam and the Northeast.

Responding to the NESO strike, Manjit Sarangthem, President of the All Manipur Students Union (AMSU), said "The opening of the floodgate to the minorities in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will result in swamping the indigenous people in the northeastern region".

He also rued that Chief Minister Sonowal refused to meet them when they had sought an appointment to discuss the issue with him as "probably he could not face us".

Bora and the AGP leadership had promised that they would exit the alliance if the BJP advanced with the bill.

Besides Congress, the CPI (M)-led Left parties, BJP allies Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), National People's Party in Meghalaya, Mizo National Front and most other regional parties are strongly opposing the bill, and have demanded its withdrawal.

Same was the scene in most of the capital cities of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya where the bandh had substantial impact.

Out of the 126 seats in the Assam Legislative Assembly, BJP has 61 seats while the AGP has 12 seats. Earlier on January 7, a section of protestors belonging to the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, an influential peasants' body, and other organisations staged a nude demonstration in New Delhi as the Bill was being tabled in Parliament.

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