Assam is on the edge as the Centre seeks to get the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in the Parliament. Take a look at the pros and cons of the Bill.
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?
The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016 seeking to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who fled Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan due to religious persecution and migrated to India before December 31, 2014. Such immigrants, who entered India before December 31, 2014 and have spent at least six years, will be protected by this Bill.
Why does the BJP want to pass it?
The BJP has always maintained that the non-Muslim immigrants are victims of Partition who fled the three neighbouring countries in the face of religious persecution. The BJP insists that it is the duty of India to protect them.
Secondly, through the Bill’s passage, the BJP and the RSS want to consolidate the Hindu population in Assam. The Muslims, who account for around 34 per cent of Assam’s population, are in a majority in at least 11 of the state’s 33 districts. The population of the Bengali Muslims is way greater than the Assamese Muslims.
What is the reaction of the BJP-RSS’s Hindu versus Muslim game?
The various Assamese organisations, staging protests against the Bill, categorically say the Assamese are not so weak that they cannot defend their “jati” (community). They say the community had defeated the Mughals 16 times to protect its land and hence, it does not need the “Hindu Bangladeshis” for its protection.
Will the Citizenship Bill benefit BJP?
A large majority of the 40 lakh people, who were left out of the complete draft of National Register of Citizens or NRC, are perceived to be Bengali Hindus. The Bengali Hindus have been traditional Congress vote-banks. They started switching their loyalty to the BJP a few years ago on seeing the party fighting for their cause through its effort to get the Citizenship Bill passed. Most people belonging to the community now view the BJP as their messiah.
Why are various organisations belonging to Assamese and other indigenous communities opposed to the Bill?
The various organisations belonging to Assamese and other indigenous communities say the Citizenship Bill, if passed, will be in violation of the Assam Accord of 1985 and the NRC. In the Assam Accord which the Rajiv Gandhi government had signed with All Assam Students’ Union after six-year-long Assam Agitation against the illegal immigrants, it was committed that the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, who migrated to Assam after March 24, 1971, will be detected and deported. The NRC is being updated based on the same cut-off date.
Secondly, the Assamese and the indigenous communities fear that if the Citizenship Bill is passed, it will make lakhs of illegal immigrants genuine Indians overnight and that will be a threat to Assam’s land, language, culture etc. They say an immigrant is an immigrant and there cannot be Hindu immigrant or Muslim immigrant. They insist that the immigrants, irrespective of faith who came to Assam after March 24, 1971, should be detected and deported. They say Assam is already bearing the burden of lakhs of immigrants, all faiths, who migrated prior to March 24, 1971 and it cannot take any more burden.
What if Bengali Hindus, currently residing in Bangladesh, migrate to Assam after the Citizenship Bill’s passage? Does the fear of Assamese organisations that two crore Bengali Hindus will migrate to Assam from Bangladesh if the Bill is passed have any basis?
They will not be protected by the Bill and pushed back. The Citizenship Bill seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who entered India before December 31, 2014. Some organisations in Assam are trying to make people into believing that if the Bill is passed, two crore Bengali Hindus will migrate to Assam from Bangladesh and the Assamese and other indigenous communities will be outnumbered. The BJP dubs this as propaganda.
Is the BJP risking the votes of the Assamese and other indigenous communities who have a far greater population than the Bengali Hindus in Assam?
Amidst the months-long protests against the Bill in Assam, the panchayat election, held in December, was an opportunity for the BJP to gauge the mood of voters. The BJP was least affected by the protests. The party had won most of the seats, its best performance ever in the state. The Congress was a distant second. The BJP’s state leadership was able to convince the party’s Central leadership that the Assamese at large were not concerned about the Bill or else the BJP would not have performed so well. The BJP suspects that most of the 70 organisations, spearheading the protests, have vested interests. The BJP also suspects that they are acting at the behest of its political adversaries.
Will non-Muslim immigrants be on a par with the indigenous communities if the Citizenship Bill is passed?
The Bill’s passage will not necessarily make the non-Muslim immigrants Assamese. The Assam government will constitute a committee to define “Assamese”. For this, 1951 could be made the base year, subject to its acceptance by all and sundry. The government is likely to take into confidence various stakeholders before deciding on the base year to define “Assamese”.
Assam might also seek special status under Article 371. Most states in the Northeast are protected by Article 371. This will deny jobs, facilities and the political space to outsiders. So, if 1951 is made the base year to define Assamese, the immigrants, who migrated after 1951, will not be viewed as Assamese. They will not be able to buy land or get facilities and they or their children will not get jobs and contest election. This is likely to come with retrospective effect.