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Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Another Tripura in the Making?


Assam faces a tectonic rise in communal fissures if the Central Government manages to amend the Citizenship Act to allow citizenship to Hindu refugees. As protests raging all over the state threaten to take a violent turn, Monalisa Gogoi reports on the powder keg and on why the Center needs to have an inclusive discussion with agitating parties to ensure the successful rehabilitation of refugees
MONALISA GOGOI | Issue Dated: December 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : National Registration Certificate | Hindus | Sikhs | Buddhists | Jains | Parsis | Christians | Asom Gana Parishad |

After six years of agitation and 855 martyred youths, the Assam Accord was signed. The accord stated that Assam would not accept the burden of a single illegal migrant who had come to the state after 25 March, 1971; and it has been treated as the cutoff date for citizenship to the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had got quite some emotional support of the people of Assam during the campaign when he assured them that if BJP came to power, illegal migrants would have to leave the state.

But interestingly, after coming to power, Home Minister Rajnath Singh of the BJP-led Central Government introduced a bill in the Parliament to amend the Citizenship Bill of 1955.

If passed, the bill will grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Muslim majority countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In essence, the bill seeks to bypass the National Registration Certificate (NRC). If the government has its way, Assam's demographic pattern will be changed to the extent of inclusion of Hindu refugees on official rolls.

Says former chief minister and present Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) MLA Prafulla Kumar Mahanta: “If the Assam Government allows the rehabilitation of Hindu refugees in the state, it will be a great insult to the 855 martyrs and the Assam Accord. Assam cannot be used as a dumping ground by a central government. After 25 March 1971, no single citizen will be allowed to get their citizenship in our state .And it is our final decision.”

On the other hand, Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma says, “A Hindu person cannot go to other countries carrying the Holy Gita with him but a Muslim person can go to any Muslim country if he wants. As a country we have to protect our citizens.”

Peasants' organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samittee (KMSS) had staged a ten days' fast in protest of the amendment of the bill, but the government paid no heed to their demands. Before his arrest, KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi declared that the KMSS was ready to go to any length to oppose "the conspiracy of the Modi government," claiming that "by amending the citizenship bill, they want to allot citizenship at our state to Hindu refugees of neighbouring countries."

"KMSS has been protesting this amendment from the very beginning and we have submitted a memorandum collecting more than a lakh signatures of the common people of the state. We are ready to protest till our last breath. Our leader Akhil Gogoi was sent to jail because he was playing a major role in this issue. The Government is trying to stop the voice of Akhil Gogoi at this period of crisis. It is a huge conspiracy and the Government is becoming reminiscent of Hitler,” says leader of the KMSS, Vasco Saikia.

Meanwhile the President of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee Ripun Bora says, “Before the Parliament election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced at public meetings that foreigners must leave India after 16 May. But this is the same Modi who now supports declaring refugees as Indian nationals in the name of religion. Illegal migrants are the same whether they are Hindu or Muslim. But the BJP is trying to differentiate people in the name of religion. We are the citizens of a secular country. Secularism is our important characteristic and by welcoming Hindu refugees, they are neglecting our Constitution. All Assam Students Union is also playing to double standards. Everyone should respect the Assam Accord because it is the contribution of the blood of several hundred youths of our state. The Congress party will never accept the decision of the Central Government and will continue to protest against this bill.”

It is important to mention here that as most of the parties and organizations have been strongly protesting against the amendment, the Government has been compelled to form a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) and its main responsibility is to access the views of the various parties and organizations regarding the amendment of the bill.

But interestingly, the JPC invited only five less-known Bengali organizations of the state for their views on this issue. Also, all of these organizations have been strong supporters of the amendment and have expressed their opinion that including five lakh Hindu Bangladeshis would not hamper the development of the state. No other organization of the state was invited to Delhi to the JPC meet, which was held on 13 October.

Addressing a press conference, senior intellectual and writer from the state, Dr Hiren Gohain said, “A huge conspiracy has been started by the Central Government. It has ignored the appeals and demands of the people of Assam. Major portions of the people of the state have been protesting against the amendment of the citizenship bill but not a single representative from any organization that has been protesting has been invited to this hearing. What does it reflect? Are we a citizen of a autocratic country where we cannot express our view? If we allow the settling of migrants here, Assam will no more be known for its local people and will become a Tripura. BJP had come to power in Assam because they promised to protect ‘jati, mati, manuh’ ('our people, land and community').

"But where is their promise? Why does our ‘jati yanayak’ Sarbananda Sonowal remain silent on this issue? He should have guts to inform the Central Government about the demands, hopes and feelings of the people of Assam because he himself took the lead at the repeal of IMDT (Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act) from the state and moreover he was the president of All Assam Students Union.”

On a similar note, Adviser of All Assam Students Union, Samujjal Bhattacharya says “Regarding the citizenship issue, there should be no controversy related to religion. Assam is now over-populated, because our state had already accepted the burden of illegal migrants till 1971.And this is now too much and it is really unacceptable.

We are committed to those youths who had lost their lives at the time of Assam agitation. Twenty six organizations of the state had become united in this issue and it is sure and certain that not a single migrated person would be allowed to settle here as citizen of our country. We do not bother whether the JPC invites us to the hearing or not. We are united and no obstacles can divide us on this major issue.”

Meanwhile, the largest regional party, the AGP – which has completed 32 years on 14th October and was the only party which was formed to make Assam foreigner-free and was a seed of the Assam agitation – is now an alliance partner of the present BJP led State Government. Addressing the party workers, party President and Agricultural Minister Atul Bora said that they would not support the rehabilitation of Hindu migrants. Cutoff dates will remain the same for all foreigners, whoever they may be.

On the other hand, party Vice President and present Water Resource Minister Keshab Mahanta maintained silence on this burning issue. It is important to mention here that though major portions of the AGP have been protesting against the decision of the Central Government, a faction maintains silence on this issue only because they are now members of the ruling alliance.

“Illegal migrants are a major issue for our state. Illegal migrants have changed our demography. It has affected our population pattern. No single person who loves his state can keep mum in this issue. We, the people, use the word ‘minority’ to some people of the state but the most unfortunate thing is that if the Central Government allows citizenship to Hindu refugees, then we the Assamese will become the minority,” says the president of AJYCP (Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad) Biraj Talukadar. BJP MP from the Tezpur parliamentary constituency Ram Prasad Sharma says with empathy, “Hindu people should get their citizenship because they have no other place to go.” Supporting Sharma’s opinion, another MLA of the ruling party, Ashokananda Singhal says, “When we feel that we are in danger, we naturally try to go back home, as we feel that is the safest place. If a Hindu feels that he is in danger, where he will go?”

All Assam Tai Ahom Students Union (AATASU) will declare a 1000 hours Assam bandh if the Central Government does not stop what they consider is a conspiracy against the state and its people. The President of the organization Manoj Gogoi says, “BJP wants to rehabilitate those Hindu refugees only to use them as a vote bank. We have 65 lakh people of our community and we will not remain silent if the Central Government implements this bill in Assam.” The situation has taken an explosive turn and it is expected that the coming days for the state of Assam will bring violence and mayhem. The situation is also particularly precarious for the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh who live side by side with the local Assamese population, and are now worried about a possible retaliation if the Bill is passed.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017