As protests against the Centre’s Citizenship (Amendment) Bill intensified in Assam, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) Wednesday warned BJP workers and leaders that they “will not be able to move freely” in the state if they continued to toe the party line on implementing the Bill.
Addressing thousands of protesters at a gathering called by AASU and at least 30 other groups in Latasil field of Guwahati, AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said people of Assam and the North-East would not accept the Bill at any cost.
Echoing similar sentiments, social organisations in Mizoram too opposed the Bill and threatened to boycott Republic Day celebrations in protest against the Bill.
Gogoi told The Indian Express, “The Assam Chief Minister is an Assamese only. He cannot be an agent of the Centre. State BJP leaders and ministers cannot be ‘yes, boss’ agents of the BJP. If they continue to do so, then the party’s cadre and leaders will have a very tough time in Assam. They will not be able to move freely in the state. You are already seeing that BJP leaders have been shown black flags in the last few days.”
The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, by relaxing the eligibility rules for an immigrant from one of six religions, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, to get Indian citizenship.
Groups in Assam have reiterated that the Bill is a “threat” to indigenous communities of the region because it violates the Assam Accord according to which any person who came into Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, will be identified as a foreigner.
Gogoi described that the gathering in Guwahati on Wednesday, called ‘Khilonjiar Bojroninad’ or “thunderous condemnation by the indigenous people” was a “spontaneous outpouring because of the genuine concerns and conviction of people”.
The protest saw student and community leaders from different indigenous communities and prominent student leaders from other North-Eastern states. Cultural figures, like musician Zubin Garg, were also part of the gathering. Speakers criticised the BJP-led governments at the Centre and the state for bringing in the Bill and spoke of how the Bill was “unconstitutional”.
Demonstrators unanimously demanded the government scrap it. “The protest is not against any community or religion. Any person who has illegal entered Assam after March 24, 1971, should be labelled as a foreigner. Religion cannot be a ground of granting citizenship,” said Satish Rabha, part of a delegation representing the Rabha community.
“We oppose the Bill strongly and we stick to the Assam Accord,” said Junaid Khalid, general secretary of the Jamiat’s Assam unit. Simultaneously, in Mizoram, thousands gathered in Aizawl Wednesday, at a protest organised by the apex students’ body, Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), and burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
The MZP and the Young Mizo Association passed a resolution to boycott the Republic Day celebrations in protest against the Bill. Chief Minister Zoramthanga, who had expressed “unhappiness” over the Bill, said: “Yes, they (civil society groups) protested today. The government will be talking to them over the boycott of the Republic Day function. We will comment after the discussion.”
“The government has appealed to us to withdraw our boycott of the R-Day function but we have decided to go ahead with it. If the Bill is passed, it will wreak havoc for Mizoram and all of the North-East. In Mizoram, Chakmas (who are Buddhists) living illegally in the state will be granted citizenship if the Bill is passed and there will be an influx also,” said Lalhmachhuana, general secretary of the central committee of the Young Mizo Association.