Guwahati, May 14: The horror of six-year-old Assam movement-- that started in 1979 and left the entire state a changed place forever--is haunting the residents of the northeastern state once again. Thanks to the recent visit of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 to Assam, the indigenous people of the state fear that Bangladeshis (read Hindus and not Muslims) will take over their land as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime at the Centre wants to give citizenship rights to six minority communities (except Muslims) from three neighbouring countries.
A key amendment in the Bill seeks to grant citizenship to people without valid documents from six minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India.
If the Bill is implemented the whole Assam Accord which was signed to end the Assam movement, started against the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants irrespective of their religion, will become null and void. Interestingly, the BJP is in power in Assam also.
The whole step by the BJP government to appease Hindus from other countries is seen as an attempt to divide the state on the grounds of religion. The main demand of the people of Assam during agitation and even now is that illegal immigrants, irrespective of their religion, who have entered the state after 1971 should be deported. However, the BJP has two different rules--one for the Muslims and second for the six other minority communities.
In order to placate the people of the state, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said he had no reason to continue on his post if he could not protect the interest of the people of the state.
He was interacting with the editors of print and electronic media in Guwahati recently on the prevailing situation in the state following the recent visit of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016.
"If the interest of the state and its people are not secure, then what is the meaning for me in continuing as the chief minister of the state. That is why we will sincerely work for safeguarding the interests of the people of Assam. This is certain," Sonowal said.
"It is my duty as the chief minister to take all with me and not take decisions on my own. By taking the opinion of the people of Assam, we will take a decision on the issue.
"I will seriously think about the suggestions given by you all here and as advised, I will also discuss the matter with senior citizens and intellectuals in the coming days," he said.
He also appealed for peace and said there is no need for people to get agitated as the process for the JPC to take their opinion is still on.
"We will not take any decision that goes against the people of Assam. We all have to ensure peace across the state and keep faith in the government. I appeal all to maintain peace so that unwanted situations do not develop in the state," he said.
"The JPC Chairman had hinted the Committee will return to Assam to further take the people's opinion on the Bill. The people should, however, continue to express their opinion and speak their mind to the JPC chairman through e-mail," he said.
The 16-member JPC headed by BJP MP Rajendra Agarwal had visited the state from May 7 to May 9 to elicit views from stakeholders on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955.
Sonowal said there was an allegation against him that he was not allowing the JPC team to visit Assam.
"When I had got the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act repealed, no JPC had come then. This time, people have been given top priority," he said.
The JPC had heard individuals, political and other organisations on the bill in Guwahati on May 7 for 30 Brahmaputra valley districts and the next two days for the three Barak valley districts.
Protests were staged against the Bill in front of the venue where the JPC hearing was held as people feared that it would breach the clauses of the Assam Accord.
The Accord states that all illegal foreigners from Bangladesh who had settled in Assam after March 25, 1971 would have to be deported irrespective of religion.
In the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley, a majority of the 315 opinions submitted to the JPC were in favour of the Bill, and people carrying placards formed a human chain in its support.
The opponents of the Bill are apprehensive that the granting of Indian citizenship to the Hindus of Bangladesh to live in Assam would negatively impact the demographic pattern of the state and make the indigenous people minorities in their own state, besides threatening Assamese language and culture.
A human chain carrying placards also supported the Bill, while politicians of both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress supported it even as their respective parties opposed it in the Brahmaputra valley. Following the JPC hearings, protests have been taking place on a daily basis in the Brahmaputra valley against the Bill.
There are also fears that anti-Bengali sentiments will increase in the state in the wake of the controversy.