BJP entered the northeast, through Assam, on its promise of identifying ‘illegal settlers’ from Bangladesh. Three years later, and three months before general elections, the party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are greeted with black flags and protests over the contentious Citizenship Bill, which will be discussed in Rajya Sabha today.
ThePrint asks: Will the BJP lose its hard-won support over Citizenship Bill in the northeast or consolidate Hindu votes?
BJP enjoys complete support of the indigenous people in Assam
General secretary, BJP Assam
For the BJP, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has been a national commitment since we came to power.
The BJP is committed to helping the religious minorities from neighbouring states, who are harassed and persecuted in those countries. These religious minorities, especially the Hindus, have no other option but to turn to their motherland, India.
The Bill has already been passed in the Lok Sabha and we are hoping it will be passed in the Rajya Sabha as well. We are not willing to make any compromise whatsoever as far as our commitment to the Bill is concerned. In fact, this was an important part of our campaign in 2014, as well as during the Assam state election in 2016.
The apparent agitation against the Bill in Assam doesn’t mean much. Merely 20-30 people showed black flags to PM Narendra Modi on his visit. We must not hype this.
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There are certain organisations and political parties like the Congress who are deliberately trying to create confusion and chaos.
The BJP enjoys complete support of the indigenous people, and has done exceedingly well in the local polls, time and again.
We work toward safeguarding indigenous rights while also providing a safe place for the persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries.
Northeast is being used as dumping ground for immigrants and the Bill will further legitimise it
Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya
Chief adviser, All Assam Students Union (AASU)
The fundamental problem at the core of this issue is that citizenship cannot be determined on the basis of religion. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill goes against this very tenet of the Constitution. It is a communal, unconstitutional bill.
The Assam Accord spelt out explicitly that those who entered the northeast after 1971 will not be accepted as citizens. And yet, for years now, the northeast is being used as a dumping ground for illegal immigrants. This isn’t fair and the Citizenship Bill will only further legitimise this.
This isn’t a question of religion. In Tripura, out of the 40 lakh citizens, the indigenous population only constitute 12 lakh. Similarly, in other parts of the northeast too we are witnessing how the native population is being reduced to a minority.
This is a question of identity and culture. The culture of the people of northeast needs to be protected. The BJP must do away with the Bill, or they will end up further alienating the people of the northeast. The problem of our country is that the politicians refuse to see beyond West Bengal in the east.
This is not about Hindu immigrants or Muslim immigrants particularly. This is a communal bill and we must agitate against it.
Persecuted minorities should be settled in rest of India, not northeast
National award-winning Assamese filmmaker
It is a fact that Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh have been treated badly. They have faced decades of persecution in these countries. The population of Hindus has seen a significant decline; they were either driven away, persecuted or killed.
Where will the non-Muslims go then? Obviously, they will turn to India for help.
As far as Assam is concerned, the native population has already been reduced to a minority. The native Assamese hardly account for 30 per cent of Assam’s population today. This is why we are witnessing protests against the Citizenship Bill. People think it is part of the BJP’s Hindu appeasement, but that is not true.
The Bill is not just applicable to Assam, but to the entire country. Given how the northeast has already shouldered substantial burden of immigrants over the years, the persecuted minorities from the neighboring countries should now be settled in rest of India in a humanitarian manner.
As far as Bharat Ratna is concerned, it is awarded to an individual, Bhupen Hazarika in this case, and no member of the family or society is entitled to reject it.
Assamese worried about their fate while BJP is concerned about Hindu voters living in Bangladesh
Prasanta J Baruah
Executive Editor, The Assam Tribune
The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which the NDA government at the Centre has listed for its passage in the Rajya Sabha, has evoked large-scale protests in the northeast. The Bill stipulates granting citizenship rights to persecuted minorities, except Muslims, from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and is therefore considered to be an attempt to scuttle the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam.
The BJP, which came to power in Assam on the promise of ridding the state of illegal foreigners, has tried to differentiate them on the basis of religion. Assam BJP leaders openly talk about their communal agenda of augmenting the Hindu vote to counter the “growing Muslim onslaught”. But the common Assamese are more worried about their fate as the Bill will encourage about 1.5 crore Bengali Hindus in Bangladesh to come here. About 110 lakh Bengali Hindus have reportedly already come to India.
The wind is already blowing against the BJP in the northeast. Recent victories in panchayat and local council polls are not correct indicators of the people’s mood. Even the Congress had won the local polls before it was swept away from power in 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was greeted with black flags when he visited Assam last week. He could not muster the courage to attend the annual session of the Sankar Sangha at Morigaon, which was attended by over 30 lakh people.
Without a strong opposition, BJP’s prospects are anyway looking good in northeast
With the development promise unfulfilled, the electoral strategy of the BJP in 2019 is to activate, consolidate and polarise a Hindu electoral base.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is the result of the BJP’s efforts to entrench itself in the northeast. Except for Assam, which sends 14 members to the Lok Sabha, all other states have a very marginal contribution in terms of seats. Furthermore, there is only a single incumbent BJP parliamentarian from the other states. In light of this, the politics over the Bill is directed primarily towards extracting impressive gains from Assam and West Bengal.
Assam witnessed a prolonged identity movement based on ethnicity, but it also has a large Hindu population. The verbal blitzkrieg on Hindutva by Himanta Biswa Sarma could be seen as an attempt to politically mobilise this Hindu base.
In the recent panchayat and autonomous council elections, the BJP registered sweeping victories despite major protest movements against the Bill led by AASU, KMSS and other organisations.
With the state Congress appearing lacklustre and the AGP largely discrediting itself, the BJP’s prospects seem to be looking up.
While the opposition in Assam might believe that 2019 will be a cakewalk election, the BJP will be a difficult nut to crack.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.
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