Row over Citizenship Bill: Tempers frayed but Sonowal government seeks to allay fears in Assam

The state government on Friday appealed to people not to panic saying it would not take any decision that would hurt the interests of locals.

Published: 11th May 2018 06:24 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th May 2018 06:24 PM   |  A+A-

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal | PTI

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: Amidst a massive public outrage in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the state government on Friday appealed to people not to panic saying it would not take any decision that would hurt the interests of locals.

“There is no reason for panic. The state government will not take any decision that is inimical to the interests of people. We appeal to people to keep faith in the government…

“The Chief Minister (Sarbananda Sonowal) had stood up for the people in the past and he will do so in the future. It was due to his efforts that saw the IMDT (Illegal Migrants’ Determination Tribunal) Act, which made detection of immigrants difficult, being struck down (by the Supreme Court),” the state’s Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary told reporters in Guwahati. 

His assertions came amidst simmering anger among the locals against the Bill which seeks to grant citizenship to the non-Muslim immigrants of Bangladesh, besides Pakistan and Afghanistan, who infiltrated into the country till December 31, 2014.

Asked about the state government’s position on the controversial Bill, Patowary said the government would disclose its stand only after the publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“At a time the NRC is being updated in the state, why should the state government give an opinion on the Bill? The government will make its position known once the entire NRC exercise is over,” the Minister said.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill overrides the provisions of Assam Accord which was signed by the Rajiv Gandhi government with the All Assam Students’ Union in 1985 at the end of bloody six-year-long anti-foreigners’ agitation. As per the Accord, the immigrants, irrespective of faith who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, will be detected and deported. It is based on this cut-off date that the NRC is being updated. 

Patowary took a swipe at opposition Congress for its criticism of the Sonowal government on the Bill and for its “triple-speak”.

“On July 16, 2014, the then Congress government had taken a decision at a Cabinet meeting to grant asylum/citizenship to the (non-Muslim) immigrants of Bangladesh who migrated to Assam in the face of religious persecution. So, that was their original position. Now the state Congress is saying something and the district units and their leaders in Barak Valley are saying something else. It is not double-speak but triple-speak,” the Minister said.

Without taking names, he pilloried some intellectuals with Left lineage saying those who had been critical of the anti-foreigners’ agitation of early 1980s are now leading the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

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