EVER since the idea of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was mooted in 2016, it was evident that there will be strong reactions in Assam. Right from the introduction of the bill in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016, movement started in Assam, particularly in the Brahmaputra valley, demanding immediate withdrawal of it. All the political parties and mass organizations except BJP expressed their clear opposition to the bill. Politically BJP was completely isolated on the question of the bill where even its coalition partner AGP had out rightly rejected the BJP’s position on the bill. When the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), formed to consider the bill; visited Assam on May 7-9, 2018 almost all organizations, except a few run by RSS, demanded withdrawal of the bill. This was supplemented by huge protest throughout the state afterwards. However it is a fact that a large number of organizations that gave representation in Silchar of the Barak valley expressed their opinion in favour of the bill. But any close onlooker of the state developments understands that as a whole the state is overwhelmingly against the bill.
When the JPC visited Shillong, the Meghalaya government, where BJP is a coalition partner, itself gave representation urging upon the JPC to withdraw the bill. Subsequently several state governments of the North-East region of India clarified that they are not with the bill. At the all India level, the then partners of the BJP-- Shiv Sena, TDP, JD (U) publicly expressed their opposition to the bill. Of course the opposition parties demanded the scrapping off the Bill.
But BJP, with its definite political and ideological goals, was unmoved. With an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha election, within a week starting from December 31, 2018 it completely bulldozed all the opposition and reservations about the bill and stormed it into Lok Sabha using its majority in JPC. The Lok Sabha passed it on January 8, 2019 by voice vote. But strategically it abstained from introducing the bill in Rajya Sabha on January 9 where it do not enjoy the majority. Subsequently Vijay Goel, leader of BJP in Rajya Sabha has announced that it will be passed in Rajya Sabha in the coming budget session of Parliament.
To understand the reactions centering the bill a look at it is necessary:
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016
A Bill further to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955
Be it enacted by Parliament in the Sixty-seventh year of the Republic of India as follows—
- (i) This Act may be called the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2016.
(ii) It shall come into force on such date as the central government may, by notification in the official gazette, appoint.
- In the Citizenship Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as the principal act), in Section 2 in sub-section (1) after clause (b), the following proviso shall be inserted, namely :-
“Provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been exempted by the central government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any order made there under, shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this act.”
- In the principal act, in section 7D, after clause (d), the following clause shall be inserted, namely :-
“the Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder has violated any of the provisions of this Act or provisions of any other law for the time being in force; or”
- In the principal act, in the Third Schedule, in clause (d), the following proviso shall be inserted, namely :-
‘Provided that for the persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the aggregate period of residence or service of a government in India as required under this clause shall be read as “not less than six years” in place of “not less than eleven years”.‘
To understand the Bill in totality, one should go through the notifications by the ministry of home affairs issued on September 7, 2015 and published in extra-ordinary gazette of the government of India on September 8, 2015.
WHY THE OPPOSITION TO THE BILL
A quick glance through the bill is sufficient to understand that it is innately antithetical to the ethos of the constitution of India. Indian constitution, being intrinsically secular in its character, does not allow anyone to consider the question of citizenship from the point of view of religion. Making a basic departure from the ethos of the constitution the bill seeks to consider certain class of illegal migrants fit for citizenship on the basis of their religious identity. All non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be treated eligible for Indian citizenship once this bill is passed by the Parliament.
Secondly it proposes to violate the provisions of the Assam Accord which sets the time frame for detecting foreigners who have entered illegally and residing here. Those who are following the recent history of Assam know that during 1979-1985 there was a huge agitation in Assam for detection and deportation of illegal migrants who have entered Assam from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) after 1951. The Left forces along with democratic sections of the state opposed this demand and were of the firm opinion that the cutoff date for detecting foreigners should be March 24, 1971, as Bangladesh was established as an independent country in 1971 only. This followed massive attacks on the leftists. CPI(M) alone lost 48 comrades as a result of these murderous attacks. The Left, undeterred by these attacks stood its ground. Finally the Assam Accord was signed on August 15, 1985 between the leadership of Assam agitation, the representatives of state government of Assam and the central government, whereby March 24, 1971 was agreed upon as cutoff date for detection and deportation of illegal migrants. The Assam Accord was placed before Parliament on August 16, 1985. Basing on this date line, the Parliament amended the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the clause 6 (A) was inserted into it which became effective from December 7, 1985. The clause 6 (A) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 states that all those who have come from the specific territory (East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) before March 25, 1971 and ordinarily been resident of Assam will be given India Citizenship with certain conditions for those who have entered on or after January 1, 1966. By the proposed enactment of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 the provisions of the Assam Accord and the Citizenship Act, 1955 will be brazenly violated.
Thirdly the bill, if passed, will render the whole exercise of updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) absolutely meaningless. Assam is exceptional from the fact that only Assam in the country has NRC which was prepared in 1951. It was prepared on the basis of first census data of independent India in 1951. But subsequently it was not updated by the RGI authorities. It is now being updated under the supervision and direction of the Supreme Court. Democratic and secular forces are supporting this tedious exercise mainly because of two counts: (i) NRC, if updated on the basis of March 24, 1971 as cutoff date, will allay the apprehensions of Assamese and tribal people of Assam about ‘unchecked’ infiltration across the border, (ii) the religious and linguistic minorities will be protected from harassment and humiliations by stamping them as ‘Bangladeshis’, if all Indians are included in the updated NRC. But by passing the bill, the BJP government seeks to make this rigorous exercise futile and meaningless.
Fourthly, the bill will definitely encourage infiltration across the border. This may have serious negative impacts on the socio-cultural, demographic and political fields of Assam and other states of the North East.
Practically, the whole state of Assam is burning after the BJP led government at the centre has decided to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. People from all walks of society in Assam are in the streets. BJP is further isolated politically as Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), an alliance partner of the ruling BJP led ministry has severed its ties with BJP.
The protests have now spread to all the states of the NE. Ruling NPP government in Meghalaya, where BJP is a coalition partner, has threatened to quit NEDA which is the north east India chapter of NDA. Even the BJP led ministry of Manipur has decided to oppose the bill and urge upon the central government to delete the name of Bangladesh from the bill. Nagaland (have BJP ministers) and Mizoram governments have expressed their opposition to the bill. IPFT, a partner of BJP led government in Tripura is threatening of serious consequences if the bill is passed in Rajya Sabha. So it is clear that the BJP is going to loose several of its allies in the region.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is a well planned strategy of BJP to legalise the concept of ‘Hindu Rastra’ where there will be discrimination against Muslims even on the question of Citizenship. It may have far reaching consequences in the entire Eastern India which seeks to erode the very basis of unity centering on language of different nations and nationalities and replace it by so called cultural unity based on religion. There is no doubt that this bill, if enacted, will seriously damage the unity, peace and tranquility of the North East undermining the secular democratic structure of the country. Even the leaders of religious minorities in Bangladesh are concerned that this bill may provoke fresh attacks on the rights of minorities and result in strain relations between India and Bangladesh. So the democratic and secular forces should rise to the occasion and forcefully demand the withdrawal of the bill.