ASSAM CHIEF Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has broken his silence on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that has created an uproar in the state over the past one week. At a press conference on Saturday, Sonowal said he will step down as Chief Minister if he failed to protect the rights of the citizens of Assam.
“If the interests of the state and its people are not secure, then what is the meaning for me in continuing as the Chief Minister of the state. That is why we will sincerely work for safeguarding the interests of the people of Assam. This is certain,” he said.
Sonowal has been under fire from all quarters for his silence on the proposed Bill, which many groups in Assam consider a grave threat to the indigenous Assamese population. The Bill, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha in July 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 by enabling illegal immigrants of six minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to apply for Indian citizenship.
“It is like an open invitation to foreigners,” Akhil Gogoi, president of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), told The Indian Express. “Since 1971, around 20 lakh Bengali Hindus have been living illegally in India. If the Bill is passed, an additional 1.70 crore Hindus living in Bangladesh (according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2015) will come into India and get Indian citizenship as the Bill does not mention any cut-off date.”
Since May 7, when the Joint Parliamentary Committee headed by BJP MP Rajendra Agarwal visited Guwahati to hold a public hearing regarding the Bill, there have been widespread protests in the state. More than 100 groups, including Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Congress and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), gathered on the streets of Guwahati to voice their opposition on May 7. On Sunday, the KMSS launched a protest in Guwahati, with Gogoi terming it as the “second part of the Assam agitation”.
On Saturday, the Northeast Student Organisation (NESO), an umbrella organisation representing major students’ organisations of the region — AASU, Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Twipra Students’ Federation (TSF), All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU), Garo Students’ Union (GSU) and All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) — launched a protest in Guwahati to mobilise public opinion. One day before the JPC visited Shillong on May 9, the Conrad Sangma government in Meghalaya unanimously decided to oppose the Bill.