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There is quite a lot of excitement in Assam, especially in the Brahmaputra valley for the past few months following the ongoing protest rallies against one major and sensitive issue concerning the indigenous people in the State, the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.  The indigenous people have been opposing to this Bill ever since it was introduced in the Parliament on July 19, 2016. Why? They are apprehensive that if the Bill is passed in the Parliament, they will not only lose their language, culture but will also be reduced to a minority in their own land.

But the ruling BJP at the Centre is determined and committed to get it passed in the Parliament, palpably to consolidate its support-base in the Hindu Bengali minority pockets in the State, mainly in the Barak valley prior to the upcoming Lok Sabha. This is pronounced in its recent well-calibrated move to bring about two major amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955.   

         To be upfront,   there is no provision at all in the Act to legalize the stay of  the six communities, namely, the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis communities who have come to India from  Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, following persecution, without  valid travel documents or stay beyond the expiry of their visa period. Even then, the Act 1955 is sought to be amended not to treat them as illegal foreigners by passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. On the whole, the Bill, as is appreciated, seeks to grant citizenship to all those people who have come to India from the above countries on or before 31st December 2014. But what the  indigenous Assamese  people  are genuinely  apprehensive of,  is that  if these people  are granted the Indian citizenship, they  will  not only  lose their identity  but also lose  their basic  rights to land, employment etc.

             It will not be hyperbole to argue that in the prolonged 71 years since our country’s independence, there has been large-scale migration of people in our country from neighbouring countries. There was the pressing need at the initial stage for the successive governments at the Centre to bring about necessary amendments in the existing relevant citizenship law and Foreigners Act, 1946 to restrict the free migration of the foreigners to India. The country has over the decades witnessed the large-scale illegal immigration of both Hindus and Muslims from Bangladesh to most States in the Northeastern region including Assam and Tripura. Indeed, the number of illegal migration of Muslims to Assam in particular, is much greater than that of Hindus. Even then, neither the Congress Government nor the ruling AGP did make any serious efforts during their prolong rule in the State, they urgently need to remedy the situation.

          The story of the BJP-led ruling establishment as regards to dealing with the vexed foreigners issue in Assam is also equally far from gratifying.  The  central and State-level BJP party leaders  in the days before the  2014  Lok  Sabha  and the 2016 Assembly elections,  made two promises to the people - that  all the illegal immigrants from the neighbouring country will be detected and deported, whereas the whole of the Indo-Bangladesh border will be sealed. Precious years have already rolled by, but what has rankled the indigenous people in Assam is the BJP government’s u-turn. The party after being voted to power, rather than addressing at least one promise,   brought in the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Parliament in July 2016, notwithstanding the process of inclusion the names of all genuine Indian citizens in the 1951 NRC as part of its updating who have entered India on or before 24th March, 1971 as stipulated in the 1985 Assam Accord.  It was intended to provide citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh to outnumber the illegal migrants, which is not only contrary to the wishes of the local people but also against the very spirit of secularism of Indian constitution.

               But  in doing so, the BJP  has not just  exposed its  biased  nature, but has  threatened  to polarize the society of  Shankar-Ajan  Fakir, the two  great saints in Assam who had  propagated the  gospel of peace all their life,  along the religious lines by tearing apart the age-old strong social fabric between Hindu and Muslim in the  State. The State-level  ruling party ought to have by now made a clear-cut, well-considered policy-decision vis-a-vis  the  contentious Bill, as the Meghalaya coalition government  led by the  NPP President Conrad Sangma of late  adopted a resolution voicing opposition against it. But the Assam BJP party’s silence on this score has only served to flummox the indigenous Assamese people in the Brahmaputra valley. Many of them think that they will be affected if it becomes an Act. But, the AGP which is indoctrinated with the tenets of regionalism is decidedly playing the politics of convenience.  The party President Atul Bora just before the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) meeting on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on November20, which unfortunately ended on a stormy note was of the view that the regional party will adopt a tough stand if it is passed. Well, if they are really committed to the people, they should have pulled out of the alliance with the BJP at this defining moment.

Dwaipayan Dasgupta

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