“Yes, we have won,” Assam-based peasants' rights leader Akhil Gogoi jumped in jubilation as soon as the Rajya Sabha was adjourned on Wednesday resulting lapse of the NDA's Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
“It’s a victory of our democracy, our Constitution and the fight by people of the Northeast,” said Akhil, who led at least 70 organisations agitating against the bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8. The protests turned into celebrations on Wednesday with many bursting crackers and singing to the tunes of Bihu as soon as the Upper House was adjourned sine die.
The bill was not discussed in the Rajya Sabha for passage, ostensibly to avoid the impending defeat it would have faced due to a majority vote against it. It was not just Congress but several allies of BJP such as Nitish Kumar-led JD (U), Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, who promised the agitating organisations that they would defeatNDA’s attempt to get it passed.
The bill seeks to allow non-Muslim migrants, who had fled Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to “religious persecution” and had taken shelter in India till December 31, 2014, to apply for Indian citizenship, after a stay of six years. Organisations representing indigenous people across the Northeast including eight allies of BJP, however, stood against it. They fear that the bill would reduce the indigenous people into minorities—bothlinguistically and politically by giving citizenship to the “illegal migrants.”
The political cudgel against the bill, however, was led by Conrad K Sangma, Meghalaya chief minister and president of National People’s Party (NPP), who leads the coalition government with BJP as an ally. Sangma had convened a meeting of 11 regional parties, including eight partners of BJP-floated North East Democratic Alliance(NEDA) here, to fight against the "communal bill" together. “Today is an emotional moment for all the citizens in the Northeast. Be it political parties, student bodies, religious bodies—all stood against the bill and today their voice prevailed,” Sangam told reporters in New Delhi. Leaders of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which quit the BJP-led Assam government on January 7, stood beside him.
Similar jubilation was evident in Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, where strong protests were staged till Tuesday against the bill. “I sincerely appreciate and congratulate the people of Manipur and rest of the Northeast for winning against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill,” Manipur chief minister and BJP leader N. Biren Singh twitted.
Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said the bill was not introduced for discussion as Congress was against it.
Assam cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said BJP was fully committed on the bill and would pass it when they get a majority in the Rajya Sabha.