Amidst protests in Assam, Lok Sabha passes the Citizenship Amendment Bill

Yesterday Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) walked out of its alliance with the BJP in the state government in protest against the Bill.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 has been passed in the Lok Sabha today. Home Minister Rajnath Singh moved the Bill today and after a discussion, it was passed by the Lower House of the Parliament. the Congress party and the TMC staged a walk-out during the discussion on the Bill.

The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. The bill will have to be passed in Rajya Sabha before it turns into a law, where the ruling NDA does not have a majority.

Singh stated in the Parliament today that the scope of the Bill is not limited to Assam alone but also for the migrants who have arrived through the Western border and settled in Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi and Gujarat.

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Meanwhile, there have been protests in Assam over the Bill that seeks to grant citizenship rights to non-Muslims who have arrived in the country prior to December 31, 2014.

Yesterday, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) had walked out of its alliance with the BJP in protest against the Bill. There have been plenty of protests going on against the Bill in Assam. The Congress, too, has opposed the Bill.

With the added impact of the NRC, Assam is headed towards tumultuous times. There is a great fear among the Assamese people, and with good reason, that their culture and way of life is under threat due to the rapidly changing demography of the state. Therefore, a significant chunk of the population wants the ouster of even Bengali Hindus in the state who have come over from Bangladesh fleeing persecution.

As we have explained in an earlier article, there is a very real possibility of a three-way communal strife in the state in the near future. The Assamese community is divided on the matter of Bengali Hindus. While some consider Bengali Hindus to be a threat to their culture, others believe they do not pose any threat and the threat comes only from Muslims who they regard to be overzealous in their attempt to enforce their culture in regions where they gain a demographic advantage. There is a fear that the indigenous language and culture of Assam will reduce to a minority if Bengalis are allowed to settle the state, no matter their religion.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, the architect of BJP’s rise in the North-East, tweeted something very significant today which strikes at the heart of the debate. One Assamese citizen asked the Minister in the Assam Cabinet to choose between his Religion or Language. The Minister replied saying that he will choose his Religion as it guarantees his language. The conversation very succinctly describes the debate raging within the Assamese community that our article described.

Speaking of the political fallout of this, the Congress party will seek to fan Assamese hardliner sentiments while the BJP will seek to form a coalition between the Bengali Hindu and Assamese communities. To achieve its objective, the BJP has granted ST status to 6 OBC communities in the state.

The state is passing through a very critical phase and with Lok Sabha elections around the corner, security agencies will have their task cut out.


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