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Sun, 21 Apr 2019

Northeast Today

Opinion on Citizenship Bill Appears Divided in Assam

Opinion on Citizenship Bill Appears Divided in Assam
May 10
11:35 2018

Opinion on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 appeared divided in Assam, following the political parties voicing support to it in the Barak valley after opposing the bill in the Brahmaputra valley.

Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) Chairman Rajendra Agarwala said 315 organisations of the Barak valley had submitted their opinion on the bill to the panel, which concluded its two-day hearing in Silchar on Wednesday.

Official sources said the majority of the submissions made before the committee in the Barak valley supported the bill, contrary to the May 7 hearing at Guwahati, where protests against it were held by parties across the political spectrum.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Silchar, Agarwala said the opinions of organisations and individuals from Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar districts were taken verbally as well as in writing, adding that the JPC would submit a detailed report to the appropriate authority.

Senior BJP leader in the Barak valley Kabindra Purkayastha told reporters, “The bill will certainly be passed and all the people who came to India till December 31, 2014 will be accommodated as citizens of the country.

“The Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists, who come to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, are illegal migrants. For them to apply for Indian citizenship, there has to be a provision in the Indian Citizenship Act.”

BJP spokesman in the Barak valley Rajdeep Roy also voiced support to the bill.

Congress leader Gautam Roy stressed on supporting the bill on humanitarian grounds, but said the entire country should take the responsibility of those granted citizenship by the bill, not Assam alone.

Ajit Singh, a former minister in the erstwhile Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in the state, along with district Congress leaders, said the 2014 voter list should be considered as the base for granting citizenship.

“This will not go against the Assam Accord, because the voter list was prepared under the accord. Everyone had accepted it and many elections have been conducted on the basis of it,” he added.

Karimganj’s AIUDF MP Radhe Shyam Biswas said his party had expressed its opinion that March 24, 1971 should be the cut-off date for identifying foreigners, as per the Assam Accord.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, the Hindu Jagaran Mancha and the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association also voiced their opinions.

On Tuesday, before the arrival of the JPC members at the NIT campus in Silchar, a human chain was formed by a large number of people, expressing their support to the bill.

On the other hand, in Guwahati, the protesters opposing the bill had said it would breach the clauses of the historic Assam Accord that stated all illegal foreigners, who entered Assam after 1971 from Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion, had to be deported.

Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi had said if the bill was passed, the identity of the indigenous people of the north-eastern state would be at stake and the existence of the Assamese language would be threatened, leading to an identity crisis among the people.

The AGP, a constituent in the BJP-led state government, had also echoed the apprehension. AGP leader and state minister Atul Bora had said the Assam agitation and the historic Assam Accord would become meaningless if the bill was passed.

Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi had said the party opposed the bill “tooth and nail”. Gogoi, Assam Congress chief Ripun Bora and other leaders of the party had submitted a memorandum, opposing the bill, to the JPC during its Guwahati hearing on May 7.

The bill had also been opposed by Assam BJP women’s wing leader Meera Borthakur in Guwahati. She had said, “A foreigner is a foreigner, whether Hindu or Muslim. The Assamese people have not become so weak that we need to import people from Bangladesh.”

The prominent Prabhajan Virodhi Manch (Forum Against Infiltration) has urged the BJP-led Assam government to “put the interests of the state above its own” and adopt an “uncompromising stand”, similar to the neighbouring states, on issues of indigenous identity.

Upamanyu Hazarika, senior advocate of the Supreme Court who had headed a one-man commission set up by the top court in 2015 on the Indo-Bangladesh boundary issue and who heads the forum, has demanded a legislation that only those, who were citizens of India and residents of Assam in 1951, and their progeny will have rights over land, government employment and trade licenses.

According to him, the political leadership in the neighbouring states had always adopted an uncompromising stand on issues of indigenous identity.

Pointing out that there were barely any protests against the bill in the other north-eastern states, as all the resources, land, government jobs, trade licenses were reserved for their local indigenous people, Hazarika said, “A citizen from the rest of the country, including Assam, does not enjoy a right over the resources in these states. As a result, no one from the rest of India or Bangladesh settles down in these states.” He demanded similar safeguards for Assam.

-PTI

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