Northeast shutdown against NDA’s Citizenship bill

Northeast shutdown against NDA’s Citizenship bill

Police personnel look on as tyres are seen ablaze during a strike called by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) in protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, in Dibrugarh. PTI Photo

The Northeast roared in anger as the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 on Tuesday while at least 70 organisations in Assam threatened an indefinite economic blockade demanding its withdrawal.

The 12-hour Northeast bandh called by Northeast Students' Organisation including the influential All Assam Students' Union (AASU), saw protesters locking some district offices of the BJP in Assam, stone-pelting on vehicles and injury of six protesters in police firing in Tripura.

The police fired at the protesters as they blocked highways near Agartala. However, BJP allies in Tripura — IPFT and INPT — extended support to the bandh.   

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 12 years at present.

Many organisations in Assam and rest of the Northeast are opposed to the bill 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.

“The bill is anti-constitutional as it seeks to offer citizenship on religious lines,” former Assam chief minister and one of the signatories of the Assam Accord, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said.

The protesters shouted slogans against the BJP, alleging that the bill was a ploy of the saffron party to destruct ethnic identity, culture and language of the indigenous Assamese.

Akhil Gogoi, a leader of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, a peasants rights body, who leads the agitation of 70 organisations, said the state would see another Assam Agitation. The historic Assam Agitation or the anti-foreigners movement from 1979 to 1985 saw many deaths, following which the Assam Accord was signed.

"People of Assam voted the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2016 Assembly elections as it promised to protect jati (community), mati (land) and bheti (home), but now they are trying to give citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis by passing the bill. We will never accept this. We have resorted to the extreme step like a bandh as our peaceful and democratic protests have been ignored by the BJP and its leadership," AASU general secretary, Lurinjyoti Gogoi said.

He said this was the first Northeast bandh after Independence, which was supported by all organisations and the influential student bodies across the region.

The bandh comes a day after Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) quit its alliance with the BJP-led state government as its protest against the bill.

ST status to OBC communities poll gimmick, say agitators

Organisations representing six OBC communities in Assam called the Centre's move to grant them Scheduled Tribe (ST) status a "poll gimmick," saying Home Minister Rajnath Singh's announcement had no meaning without a legal status. 

They said the BJP was trying to appease the six communities ahead of Lok Sabha elections as it invited the ire of the indigenous communities by passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal welcomed the move saying it would protect the identity of the indigenous communities — Tai Ahom, Moran, Mottock, Chutias, Koch Rajbonghsi and tea tribes — and ensure more welfare for them. These communities are listed as Other Backward Classes at present.