As Lok Sabha lists citizenship bill, NE set for protest

Activist of All Assam Students union stage a protest against the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, in Dibrugarh, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (PTI Photo)

The Northeast is set for fresh agitation as Narendra Modi government has listed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill for passage in the winter session of the Parliament beginning on Monday.

The influential All Assam Students' Union (AASU) will lead a joint agitation along with at least 30 other organisations, who fear that the bill would reduce the ethnic communities in the region into minorities.

"The bill is not at all acceptable as it is communal, unconstitutional and against the historic Assam Accord, which the Centre signed in 1985. The accord promised to solve Assam's long foreigner problem by detecting foreigners with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date, irrespective of religion. But BJP wants to offer citizenship to the Hindu migrants till December 2014. This will make large number of illegal migrants living in Assam Indian citizens," AASU adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya told reporters here.

The bill seeks to allow "persecuted minorities" from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan such as Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs, who had migrated till December 31, 2014 to apply for Indian citizenship, after a stay of six years. 

North East Students' Union (NESO), a forum of students' bodies from across the region is also launching an agitation from Monday, when the Winter Session of the Parliament begins. They fear that the illegal migrants will "infiltrate" into the neigouring states like Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram after getting citizenship in Assam, through the bill.

Assam minister and BJP's top strategist in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, tried to assuage the agitating organisations saying that the draft of the bill would be different from the one introduced in the Parliament last year.

"I am sure this draft will have sufficient measures to protect the unique culture and identity of the indigenous people. In democracy everyone has the right to protest but we will go ahead with it as we won elections with the promise of passing the bill. We want to make it clear that only four to five lakh people (who were excluded from NRC) will get citizenship through this bill. This will go a long way in solving our long foreigner problem and usher more development," Sarma said.

When asked about how confident he was about passage of the bill, Sarma said, "It will be passed in two days."

The bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha in December last year but Modi government did not introduce it in the Lok Sabha due to strong agitation in the Northeast.

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