The BJP's foray into the North East has faced a challenge after the Centre's move to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The saffron party is likely to face testing times in Assam during the panchayat election early next month.
The panchayat elections are seen as a test for political parties in Assam ahead of the Lok Sabha election. The BJP's popularity has now dropped after having soared to unprecedented heights after the publication of the final draft of the NRC on 30 July.
State Election Commissioner HN Bora, announcing the panchayat election schedule at a press conference held on 5 November, said that the exercise will be held in two phases on 5 and 9 December.
There are 2,200 panchayats in Assam.
The election is being held at a time when the state is going through a turbulent phase due to the resurfacing of an old fault line between Bengali Hindus and the Assamese people, after the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016.
The Bill aims at providing citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians. However, it does not have a provision for Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas, who also face persecution in Pakistan.
The Centre’s move has brought back the fear among indigenous tribes and ethnic groups of becoming minorities.
These fears have been aggravated due to the Centre’s recent notification to register Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian infiltrators from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh as Indians in 16 districts across seven states in India.
“Though the order is related to districts which do not belong to Assam, we see the move as something clearly in opposition to our demand to detect and deport illegal migrants, irrespective of their religious affiliations,” All Assam Students Union general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi had told Firstpost in an earlier report.
The BJP’s image as the saviour of the indigenous tribes and ethnic groups in the region, which it cultivated carefully over the years, has taken a beating after the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants. A delegation of all the student unions of the region had recently met the Union home minister and demanded that the Bill should not be further pursued.
However, many Bengali organisations had supported the Bill.
The rift between the two communities over this issue resulted in sporadic violence, and also bandhs called by both Bengali and Assamese organisations.
On the night of 1 November, five innocent men were killed by unknown assailants in Tinsukia district.
The impasse may escalate soon, as 70 organisations representing various tribes and ethnic groups in Assam have decided to launch a massive protest on 16 November in front of the Assam Legislative Assembly.
Bhaben Handique, one of the leaders of the protest, said that people from all corners of Assam would reach the Assam Assembly and take part in a bike rally. “The objective of this protest is to either compel the central government to drop the Bill or to compel the Assam government to resign,” he said.
A few months ago, the situation for the BJP-led government in Assam was different, and it enjoyed good popularity due to the publication of the final draft of the NRC. At the time, people at many places distributed sweets, as the publication of the list marked the success of a 40-year-old struggle. The credit of this success, without doubt, went to the BJP-led state government.
However, the move to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has brought the saffron party's march in Assam to a halt. It has reversed the gains that the BJP had achieved ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2016 Assembly election, by consolidating the votes of both Hindu Bengalis and Assamese people.
Updated Date: Nov 16, 2018 09:20 AM