The BJP said Thursday its commitment to protect the interests of the people of Assam is absolute, but there is an obligation to help people who face religious persecution in neighbouring countries.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav made the remarks in Guwahati, even as the party faces criticism in the state for passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 and makes people from religious minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship.
Madhav’s visit to Assam, his press conference, and his scheduled meeting with BJP office bearers and legislators in the state, is being seen as a part of the BJP’s strategy to allay fears amongst large sections of society against the Bill.
At the press meet, Madhav said “lies were being told and misinformation spread” with regards to the Bill. “In the protests that are happening, there are some who have genuine concerns – we respect that. But some people are doing this only for political expedience,” he said, adding that the ULFA(I) was opposing the Bill with an intention to disrupt the law and order situation of the state.
“People of Assam have been lucky to have not been affected by the partition of the country in 1947 on religious lines, thanks to the efforts of noted people like Gopinath Bordoloi. But all were not as lucky as you, like in your neighbouring state. It was a religious Partition. No one wanted that. But if those who suffered during Partition, if they face religious persecution, where will they go? They will look towards Hindustan,” Madhav asked, explaining the government rationale in bringing the Bill.
Madhav said that it was “natural” for some “concerns” to be raised and assured that the government will take all steps to preserve the identity and protect the interest of the indigenous people of Assam.
He said that the government will keep in mind both “responsibility towards people from minority communities in neighbouring countries who have faced religious persecution” and “protection of the interests of people of Assam and the Northeast”.
Non-BJP political parties in the Northeast – as well as a few BJP leaders – have vehemently opposed the Bill, with the backing of powerful groups like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), civil society organisations, and intellectuals. They say the prospect of regularising illegal migrants poses a threat to the indigenous communities of the state. Moreover, they say the Bill violates the 1985 Assam Accord and is also unconstitutional because it grants citizenship on the basis of religion.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said the BJP-led government in the state would not support the passage of the Bill unless there was a provision for protecting the indigenous people of the northeast.
Earlier this month, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) walked out of its alliance with the BJP in Assam.
Madhav said that he would appeal to the AGP to reconsider their decision because the two parties had fought and won people’s mandate on a pre-poll alliance. He also added that he would be reaching out and talking to allies in other Northeastern states who have expressed their reservations against the Bill. Madhav also spoke on how the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is its “soul”. Clause 6 says that “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
The government had notified a high-level committee for its notification but it failed to take off – at least three members walked out of the committee after the AASU said it would not send a representative. Following this, former bureaucrat M P Bezbaruah – the chosen chairman of the Committee – also walked out, saying the committee was “non-functional and de-facto defunct”.
Madhav said the government was committed to implementing Clause 6 by “letter and spirit”. He termed the leaving of members as “unfortunate” and said he appealed to them to return. He also said that in granting ST status to six new communities of Assam, the “reservations of the existing ST communities would not be affected”.