GUWAHATI: Normal life was thrown out of gear in Assam on Saturday during the dawn-to-dusk statewide bandh called jointly by 11 students’ organisations in protest against the Centre’s decision to allow immigrants, who are minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, to stay on in the country without valid documents.
During the bandh, schools and colleges, besides government offices and financial institutions remained closed. The protesters burnt Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who hails from the state, in effigy. The police arrested over 100 bandh volunteers for damaging vehicles and blocking roads.
Also on Saturday, protests were staged by the All Assam Bengali Yuva Chhatra Federation and the BJP Yuva Morcha in parts of the state against the organisations which had called the bandh. The state has been wracked by protests since September 7 when the Centre decided, on humanitarian grounds, to allow non-Muslim immigrants, who entered India before December 14, 2014, to stay on in the country without valid documents.
In this regard, the Centre issued two notifications in the Official Gazette under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946.
Peasants’ body Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), which has launched a statewide protest against the Centre’s decision, said Assam should not be forced to bear the burden of 15-20 lakh non-Muslim immigrants.
“Assam has already accepted the Bangladeshi immigrants, who came here before March 24,1971 and it cannot accept those who came after that,” KMSS president Akhil Gogoi said.
The All Assam Students Union (AASU), which had spearheaded a six-year long anti-foreigner agitation in the 1980s, urged the Centre to honour the Assam Accord signed in 1985.
“As per the Assam Accord, the immigrants, who entered the state after March 24,1971, were to be tracked down and deported. We expect the Central government to honour the Accord in letter and spirit,” AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said.
According to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) the indigenous people would become a minority following the Centre’s move. “The Centre has looked into the issue through a religious perspective. We won’t accept this,” AGP leader and former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said.
The Bengali Hindus in Assam are seen as the vote banks of the BJP. The Opposition parties alleged that the BJP-led Government had taken the decision with an eye on the Assembly elections due next year.