WITH PROTESTS intensifying in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was cleared by the Rajya Sabha Wednesday, ruling BJP MPs from the state expressed “genuine concern” at the “tense situation” and said that “people are worried and confused”.
Three party MPs from Assam told The Indian Express that there is a “lot of misunderstanding over the Bill” but stressed that “this is not the way to protest”.
“The issue is with the way it is being presented to the people,” said Pallab Lochan Das, MP from Tezpur. “The wrong news being circulated is that there will be lakhs coming to stay here, and that border fences have been broken for people from Bangladesh. People have not been told about the cut-off date,” he said.
The CAB seeks to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis — it leaves out Muslims — who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.
According to Das, people in Assam fear that their language will be lost, Bangla will replace Assamese and that they will become a minority. “We have to take a number of steps. Apart from an intense campaign, the Centre should pass a law to protect the language. There are six communities in Assam that are seeking ST status, we will have to take steps for it.”
Guwahati MP, Queen Oja, admitted that the “situation is bad”. “It’s not good… I don’t know about tomorrow. There is misunderstanding and misinterpretation. People should understand things correctly. It’s getting worse,” she said.
Oja said people fear that their identity will be lost if those from Bangladesh are given citizenship. “I understand their worries. There is genuine concern. I support their right to protest, but this is not the way to protest,” she said.
Asked what she would do to pacify the protesters, Oja said: “It’s too hot now. Hands will be burnt if we touch the metal when it’s too hot. Let’s wait. We should try slowly.”
Dilip Saikia, MP from Mangaldoi, said “the situation is very tense”. Acknowledging that people fear an influx of Hindus from Bangladesh, Saikia said: “Indigenous people are worried that there will be lakhs coming in to take away their rights and livelihood, and replace their language.”
Pointing out that people had suffered due to the “non-implementation of promises given to them”, Saikia said the NDA government at the Centre had initiated the process of implementing key clauses in the 1985 Assam Accord after previous regimes failed to do so.
“The Narendra Modi government has appointed a high-level committee to look at ways to implement the accord. We are also concerned. We want Assamese to remain our language,” Saikia said.
Das and Saikia pointed out that there was a wide-ranging consultation process, involving Union Home Minister Amit Shah and different groups from the state, before the Bill was taken up in Parliament this time. “No one has ever taken such efforts. We have tried. But if someone deliberately does not want to understand, and creates trouble, what can we do?” Das said.