Citizenship bill lands Sonowal in a spot ahead of polls

Citizenship bill lands Sonowal in a spot ahead of polls

Sarbananda Sonowal

The NDA's Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has put Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in contrast to the title of a 'jatiyo nayak' or hero of the Assamese community bestowed on him 14 years ago as a first time Lok Sabha member.

Sonowal, who climbed his political ladder on regionalism and the promise to protect the Assamese identity against 'illegal Bangladeshi migrants,' now finds himself in a spot as the bill seeks to offer citizenship to non-Muslim 'persecuted' migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, even violating the historic Assam Accord of 1985. 

Indigenous Assamese fear that the bill would give citizenship to large illegal migrants population in Assam and reduce them into minority and threaten their ethnic identity.

The accord had promised that illegal migrants would be detected, deleted and deported with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date, but the bill, already passed in the Lok Sabha without any objection from Sonowal, has led many question his 'jatiyo nayak' image.

"People loved him, called him 'jatiyo nayak' and voted for his party because he has always promised to protect them against illegal migrants. But he was seen clapping when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Silchar (South Assam) on January 4 that the bill would soon be passed in Parliament. This has now proved him a duplicate jatiyo nayak (false hero)," former chief minister and senior Congress leader Tarun Gogoi said. 

Sonowal's public life began in the influential All Assam Students' Union (AASU), which led the Assam Agitation or the anti-foreigners movement between 1979 to 1985. He had served as its president between 1992 to 1999 before he joined Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a regional party formed by former AASU leaders. He was elected as MLA in 2001 and to the Lok Sabha in 2004.

His popularity soared in 2005 when his PIL led the Supreme Court strike down the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) 1983, an act seen by many as a shield to illegal migrants. This earned him the title of a jatiyo nayak.

Sonowal joined BJP in 2011 and was elected to Lok Sabha in 2014. "People had voted BJP for the first time to power in 2016 as Sonowal and Narendra Modi promised that Bangladeshis will be driven out. But now they have taken the U-turn by introducing the Citizenship bill," said Akhil Gogoi, peasants' rights leader, who has been leading the agitation against the bill.

A BJP leader here, however, rejected the U-turn charge saying Sonowal had even told before elections that BJP would give citizenship to 'persecuted' Hindus.

Meanwhile, many in social media are calling Sonowal an 'Accidental Chief Minister,' akin to the 'Accidental Prime Minister' campaign nationally carried out by BJP against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also a former Rajya Sabha member from Assam.