Vol. XLIII No. 11 March 17, 2019
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Protest against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 at Delhi

Isfaqur Rahman

THE Left-Democratic Manch (LDM), Assam-a common platform of 10 political parties comprising of the CPI (M), CPI, CPI (ML), AAP, SP, NCP, RCPI, Janata Dal(S), LDP and Asom Sangrami Mancha, staged a massive 'sit-in-demonstration' at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on  December 28. Demanding immediate withdrawal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and upgradation of a flawless National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam with the inclusion of names of all the genuine Indian citizens in the final list, the demonstration was attended by several hundred protesters from Assam

Later a meeting was also held at Jantar Mantar, which was addressed, among others, by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Party's Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and general secretary of the AIKS Hannan Mollah,   national secretary of the CPI and Member of Parliament Binoy Vishom and central committee member of the CPI(ML)  Mohammad Salim. 

Addressing the protesters, Sitaram Yechury said, "the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is an affront to the fundamental principles of Indian Constitution, granting citizenship on the basis of religion tantamount to destruction of secular-democratic foundations of Indian Republic. The Citizenship Bill sought to be enacted and doggedly being pursued by the BJP-led central government is an instance of brazen violation of Article 14 which guarantees the right to equality and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, creed, etc."  Right to Equality is a fundamental right and is one of the magnificent corner-stones of the Indian democracy, Sitaram Yechury asserted.

Expressing unflinching support to the protest actions being organised by the Left-Democratic parties and various secular-democratic organisations of Assam, the CPI (M) general secretary said, "the proposed bill also seeks to nullify the provisions of 'Assam Accord'  which was a national consensus with regard to citizenship reached after a prolonged battle". Furthermore, the bill, if enacted, would certainly make the process of preparation of NRC in Assam; now being upgraded under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India, a futile and meaningless exercise. We demand upgradation of a correct NRC where the names of all the Indian citizens, cutting across religious linguistic and ethnic barriers, must be included without any discrimination, Sitaram added. The CPI(M) would be unrelenting in its steadfast opposition to the Bill inside and outside the Parliament and try to mobilise other secular parties to defeat the ill-designed and communally motivated Citizenship Bill. In fact, the RSS-BJP sponsored Citizenship Amendment Bill was an attempt to divide people on communal lines and disrupt the unity and integrity of the country, Yechury asserted. 

Prakash Karat, in his speech, came down heavily on the Modi government for introducing the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Parliament and said the protest against the bill was justified on many counts. The former general secretary of the CPI (M) precisely and  pointedly explained the grounds of opposition and said, the voice of the people of Assam embodies a cohesive voice of the people of the entire nation who uphold the secular values and defend the constitution. Party's Polit Bureau member Mohammad Salim, who is an MP and  member of the Joint Parliamentary Committe(JPC) which is now examining the bill would oppose it and give dissenting note within the JPC if need arises, Karat added. Citizenship could not be determined on the basis of religion, he said. Karat also referred to the exclusion of 40 lakh people whose names were left out in the draft NRC in Assam and demanded inclusion of names of all Indian citizens.

The 'Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill' (FACAAB) led by eminent intellectual Hiren Gohain and 'Asom Nagarik Samaj' led by renowned literary figure and former DGP of Assam Police Harekrishna Deka also extended full support and expressed solidarity with the protest demonstration of the Left-Democratic Parties. Kishore Kalita and Deben Tamuly of the FACAAB participated and addressed the gathering. 

The meeting and 'sit-in- demonstration' were steered and conducted by Suprakash Talukdar CPI(M) CC member from Assam. 

ASSAM DELEGATION MET UNION HOME MINISTER AND PRESENTED MEMORANDUM

A delegation of the LDM Assam led by its convenor and CPI (M) state secretary Deben Bhattacharyya met Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh during the ongoing session of the Parliament and presented a  memorandum. The delegation urged the government to withdraw the controversial bill immediately. The CPI (M) Polit Bureau member and MP Mohammad Salim accompanied the Assam delegation.

Rajnath Singh hinted that the provisions of the 'Assam Accord' would be considered but gave the impression that the government was hell bent to pass the bill at an appropriate stage. On the contrary, the LDM demanded withdrawal of the bill lock, stock and barrel.  After returning from the Union Home Minister's Parliament Chamber, Deben Bhattacharyya, Isfaqur Rahman, Pradyut Kumar Borah, Munin Mahanta and Pankaj Das addressed the protesters at Jantar Mantar and briefed the demonstrators regarding the meeting with Rajnath Singh. 

THE GROUNDS FOR OPPOSITION TO THE CITIZENSHIP (AMENDMENT) BILL,2016

The grounds for opposition to the bill are cited in the memorandum given below:

 (i) The proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955 seek to grant citizenship to six non-Muslim minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan and make illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. In fact, the Bill strikes at the root of secular-democratic foundations of the Indian Republic. This will, undoubtedly, violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees right to equality and will provide differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of their religion. It is our considered opinion that the proposed bill violates basic principles of our constitution.

(ii) The larger implication of this Bill would be in Assam and the North-eastern states as a whole. The proposed amendments seek to nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord for detection of the illegal migrants who entered Assam after March 24, 1971. As a matter of fact, the Assam Accord was the result of a national consensus and all political parties and organisations had accepted the cut off date for detection of illegal foreigners. After the Assam Accord, Section 6 (A) was inserted into the Citizenship Act, 1955 which incorporated special provisions with respect to citizenship of persons covered by the Accord, i.e. persons migrated from ‘specified territory’ (Bangladesh).

(iii) It should also be noted; the state of Assam had to bear the major burden of continuing influx from across the border since the days of partition. Now, if the migration continues unabated and unchecked, the demographic pattern of Assam in particular and the North-East in general will drastically be changed and the socio-economic, cultural and political scenario will adversely be affected. The unity and integrity of a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-national state like Assam will completely be disrupted if influx from across the border from neighbouring Bangladesh is encouraged.

(iv) The Left-Democratic Manch, Assam also registers its strong protest against the central government’s notification dated September 7, 2015 that seek to protect illegal migrants on the basis of religious identities. In this regard, the manch demands withdrawal of the Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015, the Foreigners (Amendment) Order, 2015 and S O- 4132 (E) dated December 23, 2016 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

(v) Furthermore, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951 is being updated in Assam under the guidance and direct supervision of the Supreme Court of India taking March 24, 1971 as the cut off date. In fact, all political parties and organisations in Assam have been demanding the upgradation of the NRC for seeking a permanent solution to the problem of infiltration. Finally, at the intervention of the SC, the process for upgradation started and the final draft of NRC has already been published. Now, if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is passed in the Parliament, the entire process for upgradation of theNRC will become a meaningless and futile exercise.