'Citizenship bill to save Assamese'

'Citizenship bill to save Assamese'

Assam Cabinet Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. ANI file photo

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will save the Assamese community from becoming like the Kashmiri Pandits and the indigenous people in Tripura, Assam Cabinet Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said here while defending the bill that seeks to offer citizenship to 'persecuted' non-Muslim migrants.

"The bill will save at least 17 Assembly constituencies in Assam from going to the hands of Bengali Muslims and Badruddin Ajmal's All India United Democratic Front. The Clause VI of Assam Accord will offer reservation in jobs and in elections for the pre-1951 Assamese and the ST status to six more ethnic communities will give us a few more MLAs from the indigenous communities. These three very significant steps taken by the NDA government will act as a shield for the Assamese people and save us from being Kashmiri pandits and the indigenous people in Tripura from being minorities in their own land," Sarma said in an interview to a local television channel here on Wednesday evening.

The statement comes amid strong agitation in major parts of Assam against the bill, pull out of support by its regional ally Asom Gana Parishad and intellectuals' appeal to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections to stop it from passing the bill in the Rajya Sabha.

The bill seeks to offer citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Sikhs who had migrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to 'religious persecution,' after a stay of six years, which is 11 years at present.

Many organisations in Assam and rest of the Northeast are opposed to it saying this would make the 'large Hindu illegal migrants' already living in Assam Indian citizens. They fear the move will reduce them into minority and nullify Assam Accord of 1985. The accord promised to detect, delete and deport illegal migrants by updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date, irrespective of religion.

The bill was first introduced in the Parliament in 2016 but had to be referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee following strong protests in Assam. It was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday but remained pending in the Rajya Sabha.

Sarma said the bill seeks to give citizenship to at least eight lakh Bengali Hindu migrants, who are unlikely to make it to the final NRC. But it would bar the Bengali Muslim migrants.

"We do not consider the Bengali Hindus to be a threat but the Bengali Muslims are. If we talk in language perspective, our threat is not from the Hindu Bengalis. A section of Bengali Muslims has brought threat to the Assamese language. If we look at the last two Census reports, at least seven districts has seen only 7% increase in Hindu population but Muslim population has increased much. So when we met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi recently, we discussed on how to save the Assamese people from being Kashmiri pandit and finally we took the decisions," Sarma said.

Sarma, who is BJP's election strategist in the Northeast, however, claimed that the steps could harm BJP in elections but took the risk to make the state 'an unbreakable forte for Assamese' by 2021. "Some sections are criticising us for their interests but Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the mahanayak (hero) for the Assamese in the next 10 years," said Sarma, who switched from the Congress to the BJP in 2015.