Sonowal breaks silence on citizenship bill

Golden opportunity to protect indigenous identity: Sonowal
Last Updated 16 January 2019, 05:34 IST

Breaking his silence over the ongoing protests against NDA's Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has appealed All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and intellectuals to give their suggestions to protect the indigenous people of the state.

"Narendra Modi government has taken a practical step to implement Clause VI of the Assam Accord and formed a committee to suggest means to protect the identity of the indigenous people. No government had taken steps for its implementation although the accord was signed in 1985. The Clause VI will ensure reservation of seats in the state Assembly, elected bodies and government jobs for indigenous people. This is a golden opportunity for us to protect the identity of the indigenous communities and hence I appeal the AASU to take a bold step and give suggestions on this," Sonowal said at a function to celebrate Bhogali Bihu, Assam's post-harvest festival, on Tuesday.

Many staged a hunger strike on Bihu day to protest the bill and slammed Sonowal for not opposing it.

A day before the bill was passed in Lok Sabha on January 8, the Centre had proposed a nine-member committee headed by a former IAS officer, MP Bezbaruah to suggest measures within six months to implement the Clause VI.

Bezbaruah refused to head the panel in view of strong protests in Assam against the bill. AASU and three other Assamese literateurs also did the same.

The bill seeks to offer citizenship to non-muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who had migrated to India due to 'religious persecution,' after a stay of six years. The same is 12 years at present.

Many organisations in the Northeast are opposed to the bill saying this would make the 'large Hindu illegal migrants' already living in the state Indian citizens. This, they fear would reduce the indigenous people into a minority.

This will also nullify Assam Accord, which promised to detect, delete and deport illegal migrants by updating the National Register of Citizens with March 24, 1971, as the cut off date, irrespective of religion, they said.

The regional Asom Gana Parishad walked out of the BJP-led alliance government in protest while its other allies in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura opposed the bill.

BJP, on the other hand, says the bill is required to shield Assamese people against Bengali Muslim migrants. "Bengali Muslim migrants are threat, Hindus are not," Assam cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said recently.

Sonowal also said BJP would fulfil its pre-poll promise to protect indigenous people within its tenure.

(Published 16 January 2019, 05:05 IST)

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