Narendra Modi government’s move to bring in the controversial Citizenship (amendment) Bill, allowing citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from other countries in the sub-continent, has run into problems with 10 political parties, including allies, resolving to oppose it, according to media reports.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the political parties convened by Sangma and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) President Atul Bora in Guwahati today (Tuesday, Jan 29).
AGP recently walked out of an alliance with the BJP in Assam over disagreements regarding the Bill.
“The meeting was a natural process, considering the opposition of the northeast states to the bill and it is not politically motivated,” Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma told reporters.
“Most political parties in the region were protesting against the bill in their own states and so we decided to come together and discuss measures to protect our people and the region,” he added.
Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga, who was also present at the meeting, said that a resolution was taken to unanimously oppose the bill which was “dangerous and harmful for the people of the northeast.”
AGP President Atul Bora said that the meeting was historic, as political parties have unanimously decided to oppose the bill and ensure that it is not passed in the Rajya Sabha.
The 10 political partes who participated in the meeting were Mizo National Front (MNF), United Democratic Party (UDP), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF), National Peoples’ Party (NPP), National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), Hill State Peoples Democratic Party (HSPDP), Peoples Democratic Front (PDF), Indigenous People Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the Khnam.
The JD(U) was represented at the meeting by its Northeast incharge, NSN Lotha.
Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said his party would always protect the interests of Assam. Taking to Twitter, he also thanked the people of the state for supporting the BJP in the elections to three tribal autonomous councils.
The BJP has faced political heat in the region over the legislation, with several allies, and even its own leaders, expressing discontent over the Bill which was passed in the Lok Sabha earlier this month.
AGP has already quit NDA over the issue. The National People’s Party, BJP’s ruling partner in Meghalaya, does not rule out a similar action. BJP is hopeful that its plan to grant ST status to six Assam ethnic groups will take the wind out of the campaign against the new rules. These groups comprise 27% of Assam’s population and control 40 of the 126 assembly constituencies.
The Bill seeks to facilitate granting of Indian citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan on grounds of religious persecution. The bill stretches the cutoff date for granting citizenship to December 31, 2014 from March 24, 1971 as mentioned in the 1985 Assam Accord.
BJP says such provisions will prevent Assam from being swamped by Muslims (or Jinnahs as Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s face in the northeast, puts it). BJP president Amit Shah called it was to complete the unfinished agenda of Partition.
But in Assam, illegal migrants are not identified along religious lines and people want such migrants from Bangladesh, both Muslims and Hindus, who are incidentally Bengali-speaking, to be deported. The Assamese fear that illegal migrants from Bangladesh pose a threat to their cultural and linguistic identity.
Assamese-speaking Muslims, who are miniscule in number, support campaigns against migrants from all religious denominations.
In Bengali-dominated Barak Valley, most people welcome religion-based citizenship rules, which, they hope, will shield them from the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Until now, close to 40 lakh people have not found place on the NRC.
Bengali-speaking Muslims, who outnumber everyone else in at least eight districts of western and central Assam, are against the proposal to offer citizenship only to non-Muslim migrants. The Muslim-dominated AIUDF, headed by Bengali-speaking billionaire Badruddin Ajmal, supports the campaign launched by about 70 indigenous outfits, including AGP and Aasu, against the proposed bill.
In terms of percentage, Assam has the country’s second highest Muslim population after Jammu & Kashmir. Muslims, mostly Bengali-speaking, comprise 34% of Assam’s little over 3 crore people.
They propose to extend Article 371 of the Constitution and implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord and to protect and preserve political rights, ethnic identity, cultural, literary and other rights of the state’s indigenous people. The use of Article 371, which has provisions for reservation of parliamentary and assembly seats for indigenous people, may upset Hindu Bengalis as well as Muslim Bengalis. Earlier, both had opposed the NRC.
All north-eastern states are against the Bill. Meghalaya and Nagaland, where the BJP shares power with regional forces, and Mizoram, where NDA ally MNF is in power, want a review.
Mizoram fears Buddhist Chakmas from Bangladesh may take advantage of the Act. Meghalaya and Nagaland are apprehensive of migrants of Bengali stock.
Groups in Arunachal Pradesh, where BJP is in power, fear the new rules may benefit Chakmas and Tibetans.
Manipur wants the Inner-line Permit System to stop outsiders from entering the state.
In Tripura, the BJP’s ruling partner, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, and opposition Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra are opposed to the Centre’s move.