Assam bandh: Citizenship Amendment bill becomes flashpoint for BJP, ally AGP; shutdown halts road, rail traffic in key districts
Forty-six organisations called for a 12-hour strike in Assam to protest against the Centre's bid to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the Winter Session of Parliament.
Protesters tried to put up blockades on railway tracks and disrupt train services across Assam on Tuesday as part of the 12-hour statewide bandh called by 46 organisations opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
Police officials said they were evicting demonstrators trying to prevent trains from running by squatting on the tracks. While protesters also burnt tyres on roads in various places in Assam, police escorts were provided to public transport vehicles to ensure that transport services functioned normally during the bandh.
The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) and 44 other organisations called the 12-hour strike to protest against the Centre's bid to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the Winter Session of Parliament.
Political parties, including the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), have extended their support to the bandh in the interest of Assam and its indigenous people. All district magistrates and superintendents of police have been instructed by the BJP government in Assam to take measures to maintain public utility services in view of the call for the bandh.
Dibrugarh was one of the worst-hit districts during the bandh. All business establishments, schools and colleges remained closed, but hospitals stayed open. Several protesters were detained at the Dibrugarh Police Station after they tried to block highways and forced shopkeepers to shut down the market.
Guwahati was partially affected, but security was beefed up at all public places, including at Fancy Bazar, where Durga Puja festivities were hit by an explosion that left four injured on 13 October. The blast was carried out by the banned United Liberation Front of Assam, which is also against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Market in several areas remained closed as a result of protesters' calls for shut down.
Dramatic visuals emerged from Tinsukia distric, where protests spilled over the road. Members of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samitee agitated on the street. Jorhat and Dhubri, too, were only partially affected, and the bandh failed to elicit substantial response in Silchar district and the Barak Valley till late morning. Although, Cachar unit of Assam Indigenous People Protection Committee along with some other local organisations blocked NH-37 and Silchar Airport Road for more than two hours in support of the Bandh. They also burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Tires were also burnt as a part of the protest but no arrests yet.
Silchar MP Sushmita Dev and said "Bandh is all about public sentiment. If the people of Cachar are not supporting it, I am also not supporting, even if the Assam Pradesh Congress is in favour of the Bandh. In some cases, the opinion of my own people is more important for me than a state committee of my party." She is also a member of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).
Normal life affected in Dibrugarh and security has been beefed up. By Avik, 101Reporters
What is Citizenship amendment bill 2016?
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and entered India before 31 December, 2014. However, Assam’s indigenous groups oppose the bill as they believe it will marginalise them by encouraging more migrations of Hindus from Bangladesh.
The current call for a shutdown comes in the wake of a meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) scheduled to be held in New Delhi later on Tuesday. At the JPC meeting, representatives of the ministries of home affairs, law and justice and external affairs will discuss the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The JPC is to submit its report on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 to the representatives of the Ministry of Home, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Law and Justice at 3pm Tuesday.
Government takes tough stand against protesters
A government communique in this regard had said that necessary preemptive and preventive measures to thwart the call for the bandh must be taken in view of the judgment of the Gauhati High Court, banning bandhs in the state, calling them "unconstitutional and illegal". The communique also said that shops, business establishments and educational institutes should remain open, and transport facilities should function normally.
Referring to the high court verdict on bandhs, state Finance and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Monday had said that the shutdown cannot be allowed as it would amount to contempt of court. He added that given the law and order situation in the state, the government will not allow the 17 November convention being organised in support of the citizenship bill by the Citizen Right Protection Forum, Assam, a conglomeration of 26 Bengali organisations.
Meanwhile, the deputy police commissioners of districts had issued orders that all government officials should attend to their duties and steer clear of the call for the strike. Various district administrations in Assam had also asked all essential service providers to continue their services on Tuesday and renounce the call for the bandh.
"The police commissioner of Guwahati, Pradip Chandra Saloi, assures that adequate security measures will be taken to ensure law and order in the district during the bandh," a release issued by the Kamrup Metro district administration said.
Saloi and Deputy Commissioner Virendra Mittal had also asked members of different business organisations to keep their establishments open on Tuesday.
Protesters threaten to intensify movement if Citizenship Amendment Bill is forced on Assam
KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi said this was the first time they had called for a bandh, and they would not call it off as the very "existence of Assamese people and their identity was at stake with this bill".
Khabir Mandal, KMSS secretary in Darrang district, said: "The Centre is conspiring to settle one crore, ninety lakh Hindu Bangladeshis, which will not be allowed here. This protest is just an example of what the government will face if it tries to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill."
Arindom Gogoi, general secretary, KMSS, Jorhat, said, "I would like to thank the people of Assam for making the bandh call a success. This is not just a normal shut down, this is an answer to the BJP led centre and the state against its anti state policies. We will not allow the Citizenship bill 2016 which is aimed at destroying the fabric of Assamese community."
Chandan Saikia, an adviser to the Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad in Darrang said people were "extending full support to the bandh" even though the government had threatened to cancel the trade license of business-owners if they kept their establishments closed in protest.
Meanwhile, the ruling BJP's alliance partner, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) organised a separate rally on Tuesday to protest against the proposed bill, party president and state, Agriculture Minister Atul Bora said. A team of AGP ministers, MLAs and leaders also went to Delhi to meet members of the JPC to discuss the bill. The party, however, has not extended support to the larger bandh called by 46 organisations.
AGP president Bora said that the Assam Accord is the Gita, Bible and Koran for all the people living in the state and no stone will be left unturned to stop the Citizenship Amendment Bill. He urged the JPC to visit Assam again to collect more public opinion and to respect the people's sentiment.
The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) is also not supporting the bandh as the students' body has a policy of not calling for strikes. But "others have the democratic right to protest", AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said. "However, we are opposed to the bill and will, in no way, accept it," he added.
Assam Congress president Ripun Bora said the party has extended its support to the bandh protesting the bill. "If the bill is passed, it will go against the provisions of the historic Assam Accord," he added.
The AIUDF has also extended its moral support to the bandh.
With inputs from PTI and 101Reporters