GUWAHATI: The BJP appears to be playing with fire in Assam. There is a strong perception among the people that it is trying to destroy the state’s composite culture through its move to pass the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants of Bangladesh, besides Pakistan and Afghanistan.A massive anti-immigrant sentiment — similar to that during the bloody Assam Agitation of the early 1980s — is building up. There is simmering anger among local groups and organizations, which are venting it on the streets daily in the Assamese-majority Brahmaputra Valley. They feel the Narendra Modi government is trying to destroy their ethnic identity.
The Bill overrides the provisions of the Assam Accord and fixes the citizenship cut-off date as December 31, 2014. This means non-Muslim immigrants, who entered the country till that period, will be granted citizenship. However, as per the Assam Accord, immigrants — irrespective of faith — who entered Assam after the midnight of March 24, 1971, will be deported.
As such, the Citizenship Bill is being seen as a gross violation of the Assam Accord, which the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) had signed with the then Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985 at the end of the six-year Assam Agitation.Except for most organisations in the Bengali-majority Barak Valley which comprises three of Assam’s 33 districts, there are few takers for the Bill in the Brahmaputra Valley. Here, local organisations and a section of activists, film personalities, artistes, educationists, intellectuals, and lawyers have said they will not accept immigrants who came after March 24, 1971.
They have given a clarion call to people to rise at this hour of “national crisis” and save the Assamese and their land, language and culture. At the same time, they have urged people not to make it an issue between the Assamese and the Bengali Hindus.The Assam Sahitya Sabha, which is the state’s apex literary body, has appealed to all to guard against elements that may try to strain ties between the communities.
“The Bengali Hindus share a bonhomie with all local communities and we all should be careful to keep it undisturbed. The people of Assam are against Hindu Bangladeshis who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, and not against Hindu Bengalis as a whole,” Sabha chief Paramananda Rajbongshi said.Given the alarming rise in the Muslim population which is in a majority in the state’s 12 districts, there is a perception that the Modi government’s move is aimed at consolidating the number of the Hindus. However, Assamese organisations have asserted that they do not need Hindu immigrants for protection.
The Congress and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which is a constituent of the Sarbananda Sonowal government, are critical of the Bill. The AGP has threatened to quit if the Bill is passed. The Bodoland People’s Front, also a constituent in the government, said it would neither endorse nor oppose the Bill.
The BJP had committed to rid the state of immigrants ahead of the 2016 Assam elections. Former Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi asked, “Did they not commit to protect ‘jati’ (indigenous communities), ‘mati’ (land) and ‘bheti’ (foundation)? Why is Sonowal silent on the Bill? By introducing it, the BJP is trying to set Assam on fire.”Krishak Mukti Sangram Samitee (KMSS) has urged the BJP-RSS not to instigate communal violence in the state. “If the Meghalaya Cabinet can take a decision opposing the Bill, why not the Assam government?” asked KMSS leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi.