New Delhi: On a day the Rajya Sabha debated the vexed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill brought in by the Narendra Modi government, and as Assam erupted in violent protests, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs from the state have raised redflags.
MPs from Assam said the bill was creating “confusion” in the state and emphasised that concerns of the ethnic Assamese must be addressed.
The bill promises citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from India’s Muslim-majority neighbours Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
It has thus been criticised by several states in the Northeast where opposition to immigrants is not driven by their religion but a bid to protect indigenous cultures and interests.
To address these concerns, some areas of the Northeast have been kept out of the bill’s purview, but this has been described as inadequate by residents of the states.
Assam, which borders Bangladesh and where illegal immigration has been an emotive issue for decades, has been at the forefront of protests against the bill.
“Assamese-speaking people feel they will be outnumbered within their own state and Bengali-speaking illegal Hindus will destroy their culture,” said Gauhati MP Queen Oja. “We have to address their concerns.”
Tezpur MP Pallab Lochan Das said that, before introducing the bill, the government should have initiated a “large campaign to dispel the misconception that it will jeopardise the identity of Assamese people”.
“Now, there is confusion… What happens if a large number of illegal Bengali Hindus get citizenship?” he added.
Given the controversy surrounding the bill, Home Minister Amit Shah, whose ministry is spearheading the legislation, said in the Rajya Sabha Wednesday that the BJP government in Assam had constituted a committee under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord to protect the interests of indigenous Assamese.
The report of the committee is still awaited.
The government, Das said, should have waited until the report was accepted to “avoid confusion and fear in Assamese people”.
Ripun Bora of the Congress, while participating in the Rajya Sabha debate, said the law would undermine the claim of Indian Hindus in Assam.
“By the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, you are going to force our Indian Hindu people to become foreigners,” he added. “This is only for political polarisation.”
According to sources, Shah’s attempt to quell the anger in Assam was rooted in a fear within the BJP that the Congress “may take advantage” of the protests.
BJP MP Rajdeep Roy, the representative for Silchar, said the agitation was backed by the Congress. “The Congress wants to spoil the situation but we are careful… The Congress is looking to reclaim lost ground in Assam, and they think this is the best available opportunity.”
Fear in Assam
According to the 2011 census, the share of Assamese-speaking people came down from 58 per cent in 2001 to 48 per cent. In the same period, the share of Bengali speakers rose from 22 to 30 per cent.
The ethnic Assamese fear the influx of Bangladeshi migrants who speak Bangla will render them a minority in the state.
The ongoing protests in Assam are concentrated in the Brahmaputra Valley and Upper Assam.
Areas under the three autonomous councils — Bodoland, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao — have been exempted from the purview of the bill.
The central government Wednesday deployed 5,000 paramilitary personnel in the northeast, particularly Assam and Tripura, over the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Internet has also been blocked in 10 districts to curb law-and-order situations.