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There is, so to say, not an iota of doubt that the indigenous people of Assam, particularly those of the Brahmaputra valley are genuinely apprehensive of losing their culture and identity, and turning into a minority in their own land. Since the controversial citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, some politicians dub as the anti-indigenous people was introduced in the Parliament on July 19, 2016. The Bill, it may be noted here, seeks to provide citizenship to six religious minority communities such as Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis belonging to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who entered India without valid documents or are overstaying even after the expiry of their valid travel documents. 

That the Bill intends to grant them citizenship of India is far too evident in its attempt at bringing about two major amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955 to facilitate the job of citizenship. However, the people in the Brahmaputra valley, in particular, were disillusioned with the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Bill headed by Rajendra Agarwal, for its conducting hearings on the Bill only for a single day instead of two days it did in the Barak valley of the state for taking the views of leaders of political parties, students, youth bodies and leading citizens on it. This is what they term insensible move on the part of the JPC had only served to social unrest which well resonated in the ongoing mass agitation against the Bill in many areas of the State. Another reason for their discontent was the JPC,s inordinately-delayed visit to Assam for conducting hearings. Actually, it did come at a time when the muchawaited NRC updates process continued its full swing to near completion. Many think holding it by the JPC in this hour may be designed to sabotage the ongoing much-crucial exercise aimed to ensure the entry of names of the genuine Indians in it and identify illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who have long been living in the State without valid visa documents or overstaying even after the expiry of the document for deportation. Significantly, in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Bill received a positive response from the people.

However, it is now no more a secret that the ruling Saffron Brigade at the Centre wanted to do the vote bank politics in Assam among the Hindus, especially the minority Hindu Bengalis by making good use of the Citizenship Bill, indeed given in the 2019 general elections in the country coming nearer. But there is an element of doubt if the party leadership at the Centre will be able to consolidate its support-base in the Hindu Bengali pockets, even in the Barak valley not to speak of the Brahmaputra valley. However, ever since the JPC members returned from Assam, neither its Chairman nor any member so far made any statement in the media till date about when the panel would come to Guwahati again as is the demand of the people of the Brahmaputra valley in particular and take views on the Bill from those intellectuals, opposition and students leaders who matter most in the State. The Committee has also so far not made any announcement of a date for the submission of the reports on the hearings in the Parliament.

Dwaipayan Dasgupta

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