India's Move to Legitimise Migrants From Neighbouring Countries Sparks Protests

Assam Police personnel remove black flags from Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti activists protesting with 69 other indigenous organisations of Assam during a demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016. — AFP

Protests-Support over Citizenship Bill storms Silchar

On Monday a small party in the BJP-led coalition in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), walked out of the alliance in protest at the bill, saying it would lead to an influx of Bangladeshi Hindus.

The move came within hours of the presentation in Lok Sabha of a report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee examining the bill that was first introduced in Parliament in 2016.

The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian citizenship to people from minority communities Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they do not possess any proper documentation.

Reacting to Centre's decision clearing the bill on Monday, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said the state government has passed a resolution in the cabinet (against the bill) and "that is the most aggressive stand any government has taken". "If the bill in its present form comes into effect, then it will nullify the Assam Accord under which anyone entering the state illegally after March 1971 should be declared a foreigner and deported,"an opposition MP said".

JD (U) national general secretary Sanjay Verma said his party will oppose the bill because it will do no good to the identity and culture of Assam and the northeast.

The IPFT is also a member of Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance), convener of which is BJP-led Assam government's powerful minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

AGP has three ministers in the state but they have not resigned yet.

"The beneficiaries of Citizenship Amendment Bill can reside in any state of the country".

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The JPC said demographic changes have been indicated in successive census but the illegal migrants claim that they are original residents and citizens of India as they have been able to obtain documents, including ration card, driving licence, passport etc.

The chief minister had assured us that the Centre will not go against the interest of the Assamese people but it is "unfortunate that he did not do enough to stall the bill", the AGP president said.

In what could be called an outburst of annoyance against the Union Government for going ahead with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, a number of associations including the All Assam Students Union (AASU) staged a protest and condemned the move. "We now regret entering into an alliance with the BJP", Bora later told reporters.

Business establishments, commercial firms and other shops also did not open their shutters extending full support to the bandh.

He also rued that Chief Minister Sonowal refused to meet them when they had sought an appointment to discuss the issue with him as "probably he could not face us".

"The BJP won many seats in the Assembly elections (in 2016) only due to the AGP. As this alliance no longer exists now, we demand that the current Assam government be dissolved", Mahanta said here. "But the BJP has chose to go ahead with the Bill, leaving us with no option but to quit the alliance", Mr Bora said after meeting Mr Singh. The indigenous people have been opposing the bill as they feel that granting citizenship status to immigrants will erode their limited opportunities in terms of employment and other social benefits. Earlier on January 7, a section of protestors belonging to the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, an influential peasants' body, and other organisations staged a nude demonstration in New Delhi as the Bill was being tabled in Parliament.

"NESO warned the Union government not to play with the future of the indigenous people of the northeastern region for vote bank politics", the statement added.

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