Assam CM draws flak over Citizenship (Amendment) Act

Assam CM draws flak over Citizenship (Amendment) Act

A demonstrator (C) holds a placard displaying a drawing of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal as others sit in the background during a protest against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati on December 13, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

When the Supreme Court struck down the 'pro-migrant' illegal migrant (determination) by tribunals Act in 2005 based on Sarbananda Sonowal's petition, many burst crackers, shouted victory slogans on the streets, while the All Assam Students' Union (AASU), the organisation he led bestowed him the title "jatiyo Nayak" (or Hero of the Assamese community).

The political climb that Sonowal followed thereafter was smooth enough— from being elected as MLA and MP from the regional Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to switching over to the BJP and becoming a Central minister in 2014.

The big moment came in 2016 when Sonowal was chosen as the chief minister of the saffron party's first government in Assam.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, of the Narendra Modi government, however, has not just invited flak from many in Assam now but also has given a blow to Sonowal's image as a leader who would protect the indigenous identity of the Assamese from the threat of foreigners.

"Sonowal is no longer a hero for us. The man, who climbed the ladder of politics banking on the foreigner issue is now welcoming Hindu Bangaldeshis through this Act. He is now a betrayer for the indigenous Assamese," AASU advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattachrajya said.

Soon after he took oath as chief minister in May 2016, Sonowal visited the office of National Register of Citizens (NRC) and promised an error-free exercise to detect all post-1971 migrants.

But, the BJP's rejection of the NRC has now led many to question Sonowal's leadership.

"People of Assam brought him to power as he promised to weed out foreigners. People trusted him as a face to fight the foreigners. What happened to his promise now?" former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi asked recently.

Sonowal wrested power from the 15-year-long Gogoi government.

BJP state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass, however, said that the party did not amend the Citizenship Act discreetly.

"Even before the 2016 Assembly election and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, we openly told people that we will give citizenship to the migrants who faced religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So there is no question of betrayal," he said.

After the violent protests since Wednesday, Sonowal claimed that many were spreading misinformation regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act to create fear and confusion among Assamese people.

"We are committed to protect the identity, language and culture of the Assamese people by implementing Clause VI of Assam Accord. The Clause will give constitutional, legal and administrative safeguards to the indigenous Assamese," Sonowal said.

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