Assam shut down against NDA's citizenship bill

Security personnel keep vigil as supporters of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) rally against the Centre’s decision to clear the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Guwahati on Tuesday. REUTERS

Assam witnessed a near-total shutdown on Tuesday during a 12-hour bandh called by at least 50 local organizations against the NDA’s Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, despite strict warning by the BJP-led state government.

Private vehicles remained off-the-road, shops and schools shut and government offices reported poor attendance while thousands of supporters of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), an ally of the BJP-led government, spilled on to the streets in Guwahati.

Many AGP workers called the bill a “BJP conspiracy” to make "illegal migrants" Indian citizens.

The bill, now pending in a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), seeks to offer citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Parsees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who migrated to India due to “religious persecution.”

A majority of organisations including AGP, however, are strongly opposed to the bill saying it would reduce the state’s indigenous communities into a minority.

“Today's complete bandh reflects the growing fear and anger among Assam’s indigenous people. We are not against any religion or community but are against illegal migrants. By signing the Assam Accord in 1985, Assam had agreed to accept foreigners who settled till March 24, 1971 and now we can’t take the burden of any more foreigners," said Akhil Gogoi, RTI activist and leader of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, who is leading the agitation.

" We want all post-March 24, 1971 migrants to go, be it Hindus or Muslims but the bill wants to give citizenship on religious lines. This is nothing but BJP and RSS’s game plan to strengthen their Hindu vote bank and remain in power,” Gogoi said.

The state government had warned of departmental action if its employees skip offices due to the bandh and even threatened to cancel licences of traders for keeping their shutters down.

All shops, however, remained shut.  

AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who signed the 1985 Accord, said that the bill, if passed would "destroy" language, culture and identity of the indigenous people.

AGP leaders had earlier met President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and many central leaders earlier opposing the bill.

"Sometimes they gave assurance and sometimes they said nothing. Today I want to ask the BJP whether they want Assam to remain with the foreigners or with Indian citizens," Atul Bora, AGP president and agriculture minister, said while addressing the protest rally in Guwahati.

Since AGP has no MP, they met JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thakrey to oppose the bill in the Parliament.    

Mahanta had earlier said that AGP would walk out of the alliance if the bill was passed. 

BJP has 61 MLAs in the 126-member house while AGP has 14 and BPF 12.

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Assam shut down against NDA's citizenship bill

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