The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that proposes citizenship for migrant religious minorities (non-Muslims) from three countries — Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — has run into opposition in Assam, a state where immigration from Bangladesh drives most of the politics and provided the key plank from where the BJP rode to power.
On Thursday, two days before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament closes receiving views and suggestions on the bill, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) got leaders of 28 ethnic groups and nine ethnic literary bodies to jointly oppose the Bill, which proposes to grant citizenship to such migrants even if they do not have the documents usually required.
The AASU’s contention, endorsed by leaders of the 37 organisations, is that the bill once passed would open floodgates for more migration to Assam, which in turn would further threaten the very existence of the indigenous people.
“It goes against the very spirit of the Assam Accord of 1985. It also contradicts the Supreme Court’s view that unabated migration from Bangladesh amounted to external aggression of Assam and was the main reason behind internal disturbances,” AASU chief adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya said at the end of a three-hour meeting of leaders of these organisations.
“Assam accepted all those who came from East Pakistan and Bangladesh till March 25, 1971, purely on humanitarian grounds. These migrants have already seriously affected Assam’s demography and economy… This bill will only add to Assam’s already heavy burden.”
After Home Minister had introduced the Bill in Parliament on July 19, the Opposition compelled the government on August 12 to refer it to the JSC, headed by Satyapal Singh. On September 7 last year, the government had issued a notification saying Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis facing persecution in Pakistan and Bangladesh and entering India without valid documents would be allowed to stay in India.
The 37 ethnic bodies said the bill would contradict the Centre’s commitment in the Assam Accord of constitutional protection to the indigenous people of Assam. “Moreover, the Supreme Court directed the Ceentre in December 2014 to start a dialogue with Bangladesh to streamline the process of deportation of the illegal migrants,” said Kamalakanta Mushahary, general secretary of Bodo Sahitya Sabha.
Pramod Boro, president of the All Bodo Students’ Union, said, “All ethnic communities of Assam have been struggling to survive in the face of large-scale migration from Bangladesh. Hasn’t New Delhi seen this?”
Himanta Biswa Sarma, number two in the Assam cabinet, has said nothing in the Bill says the migrants would be accommodated specifically in Assam. “India is the largest Hindu-inhabited country and it is natural for harassed Hindus to seek shelter here,” Himanta said.
The AGP, a party formed after the Assam Accord in 1985 and a BJP ally today, has not taken up the issue but its founder Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, signatory to the accord as then AASU president, has taken the student body’s line. As adviser of Asam Andolan Sangrami Aikya Mancha, he has sent a memorandum to the joint select committee opposing the bill. He said it would spell disaster to the identity, culture and language of Assam’s indigenous communities.
The Congress has opposed the bill, although it had originally spoken of shelter to Hindus persecuted in Bangladesh. “We oppose granting them citizenship. My government last year took a decision for granting only refugee status to persecuted Hindu migrants,” said former CM Tarun Gogoi.
Outside Assam, parties like the CPM, the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal too have expressed opposition to the bill. In Assam, the ethic bodies have asked their members to flood the committee with e-mails and fax messages opposing the bill.