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Citizenship Bill: Politicos, Assam civil society decry sedition case against Sahitya Akademi winner Hiren Gohain

The slapping of sedition charges against Sahitya Akademi awardee Assamese litterateur Hiren Gohain, senior journalist Manjit Mahanta and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi in Assam on Thursday has evoked sharp reactions from all corners in the state.

All three were speaking at a public event in Guwahati recently that was held to protest the attempts of the governments both at the Centre and in the state to turn the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill into an Act.

 Citizenship Bill: Politicos, Assam civil society decry sedition case against Sahitya Akademi winner Hiren Gohain

Hiren Gohain. Image courtesy News18

Gohain, a former Gauhati University professor and a prolific writer had in the meeting warned that the call for a "free" Assam might revive again if the Citizenship Bill is imposed upon the indigenous people in the form of a law passed by the Parliament. According to a PTI report, the police suo motu registered a case at the Latasil police station in Guwahati under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code: including 124(A) that deals with charges of sedition, 120 (B) dealing with criminal conspiracy.

"We have registered the case no. 15/19 and are going through the speeches made by different speakers in the meeting to examine if there is any reference to any call for sovereignty. We are lawfully bound to act as the meeting was held in our presence. It was held on 7 January at the Tarini Choudhury Government Girls HS & MP School at Silpukhuri in Guwahati. The meeting was convened by Manjit Mahanta," said officer-in-charge of the Latasil police station Upen Kalita.

Senior IPS officer and Guwahati commissioner of police Deepak Kumar said that the investigation is on. "We have not made any arrests. Things will become clear only after the investigation is over," Kumar said.

All three individuals are part of the Nagarik Samaj organisation — protesting the Bill tooth and nail — which called the meeting. The Congress party also objected to the  manner in which the government is handling the case.

"I condemn this act of the government," veteran Congress leader and former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi told Firstpost. "The state government is trying to shut the mouth of the people but it won't succeed. I do not support such an angry reaction from the government. Even though I don't support what Gohain said regarding a 'free' Assam, I believe that he broke no law. The state government should realise that such harsh measures would only encourage the protestors to protest more and not scare them off. I demand that the state government withdraws the case against Gohain."

The tough stand by the government was also criticised by its recent ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) which withdrew three of its ministers from the Sonowal government on Wednesday protesting against the BJP's intent to get the Citizenship Bill passed. AGP president Atul Bora, the party's working president Keshab Mahanta and Phani Bhushan Choudhury tendered the resignation to the chief minister last evening as the party fear that sticking with the BJP will do the regional outfit more harm than good.

"The government through such repressive measures is trying to hide its weaknesses. Gohain did not say any seditious thing. The Citizenship Bill threatens the Assamese community. The act of the state government is at best condemnable. The government should refrain from taking such repressive measures," said senior AGP leader and former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. He represents the Barhampur legislative Assembly constituency in Assam.

BJP Gauhati Lok Sabha MP Bijoya Chakravarty disagreed with the former chief ministers. "Gohain is against Assam. He has become a reactionary individual. He is no longer an intellectual as he was at one point of time," she said.

BJP leader Suman Haripriya and Hajo MLA blamed the Congress. "As the election is nearing the Congress is doing all kinds of things to instigate people," Haripriya said. Former Assam Sahitya Sabha president Nagen Saikia came down heavily on the government for taking such a drastic step. "It's a wrong move by the government. Gohain did not say anything seditious. He only expressed what he feared. By this act, the government has only invited another movement against it. It is an unfortunate incident," Saikia said.

All Assam Students' Union advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya also severely criticised the steps taken by the Assam government. "This is a complete misuse of power by the state government. The BJP, the Assam government and the Centre have betrayed the people of Assam. This approach by the government machinery is not acceptable to the people of Assam. The government should know that such repressive measures would not finish off the movement," said Bhattacharyya.

In a nutshell, according to PRS Legislative Research, "The Bill amends 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. Under the Act, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The Bill relaxes this 11 year requirement to six years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries."

The Lok Sabha has already passed the Bill on 8 January while it is yet to get the nod from the Rajya Sabha. There are apprehensions in most of the northeastern states, even among allies of the BJP including the Mizo National Front, Indigenous People's Front of Tripura and National People's Party, that the passing of the Bill in Parliament would bring an immense existential crisis for the indigenous population in these states thereby triggering off massive violent protests in the region.

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Updated Date: Jan 10, 2019 18:57:07 IST