Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal is faced with a threat to the state’s law and order situation, as 46 organisations representing various tribes and indigenous groups in the state have called a 12-hour long bandh on Tuesday in protest against the Centre’s move to clear the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.
The Bill provides for the possibility of granting citizenship to religious minorities who have fled to India from a number of neighbouring countries on account of facing religious persecution.
The bandh coincides with the Joint Parliamentary Committee's meeting to be held in Delhi on Tuesday, during which organisations taking part in the protests fear that the Bill will be approved.
“If the bill becomes a law, the problems faced by Assam due to illegal migrants from Bangladesh in all aspects of socio-economic and political life will aggravate,” said Palash Changmai, general secretary of the Asom Jatiyotabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, one of the organisations calling the bandh.
In May, the JPC conducted a hearing in Assam, which reopened the existing divides in the state over this issue.
Though the JPC received petitions from residents in the Assamese-dominated Brahmaputra valley opposing the Bill, a flurry of letters supporting it came from the Bengali-dominated Barak valley in the state.
Fear looms large in the Brahmaputra valley that the committee may give its nod to the Bill, after which it will be made a law by Parliament.
“The JPC members had said after the hearing that they would visit Assam again and organise consultations with organisations. But the committee never returned. In fact, it is going to take a decision on the Bill on Tuesday,” asserted Akhil Gogoi, another leader of the movement, in a Facebook live video.
Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, a member of the committee, said to Firstpost, “As per my knowledge, the committee will discuss the Bill with top officials in the home ministry and external affairs ministry on Tuesday. However, I do not think that a report can be filed by tomorrow, as deliberations on the nitty-gritties are still on.”
Tasa ruled out any possibility of the JPC visiting Assam again. “We have already completed the hearing process. So, there is no need to visit Assam again. The JPC cannot go from village to village,” he said.
Palash Changmai, said to Firstpost that all offices, schools and other institutions will remain shut as part of the bandh from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We appeal to the people of Assam to support the bandh wholeheartedly and make it successful,” he said.
The state government has appealed to people not to heed the bandh call.
Citing a Gauhati High Court order banning bandhs in the state, the state's finance and health minister said, "All shops and business establishments should remain open, while government employees must report for their duties, or else it will be considered as a contempt of court.”
The state government has also reportedly issued directives to the offices of deputy commissioners of various districts to ensure that the orders are followed.
The issue of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 is likely to pose challenges to the BJP led government in Assam on the fronts of law and order as well as politics.
The state has seen periodic flare-ups of the law and order situation since the late 1970s, when a six-year-long, historic Assam movement demanded the ouster of illegal migrants. Eight hundred and fifty-five youth died during the movement.
The year 2012 saw the worst riot in the contemporary history of the state in Kokrajhar. The violence was triggered by the fear that vast tracts of lands in the tribal-dominated Bodoland Territorial Council were being encroached upon by illegal migrants.
On the political front too, the issue may hit the ruling dispensation hard, as the BJP rose to power in the state for the first time in 2016 on the promise to deport Bangladeshi immigrants.
The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. It is seen in stark contrast of the demand in the state to identify and deport illegal migrants irrespective of their religious affiliation.
The Bill, after being discussed in the Lok Sabha, was referred to the JPC in August 2016. It is likely to be tabled in Parliament in 2019.
Updated Date: Oct 22, 2018 21:52 PM