Civil society groups in Assam file petition on citizenship row: Issue will remain an active volcano for BJP till 2019 polls

Even as BJP faces defeat in three crucial states to Congress in the recent Assembly elections, the saffron party increasingly faces heat in Assam, as seventy civil society organisations decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court against the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to certain sections of illegal immigrants on the basis of religion.

The move comes at a time when the Assam BJP was seen heaving a sigh of relief as the issue seemed to have subsided after the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Citizenship Amendment Bill failed to submit its report before the beginning of the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha. Filing of cases in the Supreme Court would only further aggravate the problems faced by the BJP in Assam before 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

“Legally, it is not possible as of now to question the constitutionality of the bill in the court, as it is still not accepted by the parliament. But we can file petition for setting aside the notifications issued by the Centre that cause an effect similar to the proposed law by relaxing entry and stay of illegal immigrants in India,” said Akhil Gogoi, a leader of the agitating groups.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Gogoi, who was recently in Delhi with a group of protesters from Assam in Jantar Mantar, also said that if the Parliament passes the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the agitating groups would also file a case in the Supreme Court against the move.

“We have already discussed the issue with Supreme Court lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan and he has assured us he will provide all help possible in this regard,” he said.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill was sent for further consideration to a joint parliamentary committee after briefly being discussed in the Lok Sabha in 2016. The committee is yet to submit its report as it has failed to arrive at a consensus about the constitutionality of the bill.

The proposed law aims at granting citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian illegal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have fled their countries facing religious persecution.

The bill faced stiff protest in Assam as it was seen as an attempt to grant citizenship to illegal Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh settled in the state and thereby turn the indigenous tribes and ethnic groups into minorities.

The Centre’s move to pass the bill was seen as a self-goal by many even in Assam BJP, as it antagonised the Assamese majority. Political parties, including its arch rival Congress, is likely to use the bill as a political plank in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The Assam BJP heaved a sigh of relief after the Joint Parliamentary Committee failed to submit its report before the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha, which began on 11 December.

“Even if the committee manages to submit its report amidst the session, the bill is unlikely to be tabled in the Parliament as it has many other businesses to contemplate over and it would not have enough time for the fresh development. We hope that the protests against the bill would subside after that and the Opposition would have no issue against us,” said a source in the Assam BJP.

But the resolve of the 70 organisations to file a case against the notifications enabling easy entry and stay of illegal immigrants into India shows that the issue would continue to remain an active volcano for the BJP even in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “We have decided to file cases against the Passport (entry into India) Amendment Rules 2015 and Foreigners (Amendment) Order 2015 and other similar notifications that can substitute the Citizenship Amendment Bill,” the source added.

Significantly, in the last three years, the Centre has issued a number of notifications that relax entry and stay of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have fled their countries facing religious persecution.

Akhil Gogoi names these notifications anti-constitutional and hopes that the apex court would rule against them.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2018 20:46:32 IST