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Battleground northeast: How Citizenship bill row may shape poll result

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New Delhi, Mar 31: The Citizenship (Amendment) bill is set to be the major weapon against the BJP in the Northeast for the Lok Sabha elections 2019, not only for the Opposition parties but also for the saffron party's ally the National People's Party (NPP).

Battleground northeast: How Citizenship bill row may shape poll result

Rivals in the battle of the ballot across Northeast seem to be bound by a common cause - opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?

With The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants. The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to provide citizenship to illegal migrants, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian extraction. However, the Act doesn't have a provision for Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas who also face persecution in Pakistan.

Without Citizenship Bill, seats will go to Bangladeshi Muslims: Himanta Biswa Sarma

The Bill also seeks to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay in the country to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.

But there has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam and other northeastern States as it would pave the way for granting citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam, who came in after March 1971, in violation of the agreement of the Assam Accord, 1985.

Nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from Assam's final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published on July 30 last year. The Bill seeks to negate the NRC (a Supreme Court monitored process that is the fallout of the Assam Accord), as it would grant citizenship to all Hindus who came to Assam from Bangladesh post March 1971, the cut-off date for NRC.

However, the Centre's decision was hailed as a "historic win" and "victory of the people", but subsequent assertions by BJP president Amit Shah and other leaders about the party's plan to reintroduce the legislation, if voted to power, turned the brief celebrations into dismay and anger.

The BJP emerged as the biggest party in the region in the past three years. It heads governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and is part of coalitions headed by allies in Nagaland and Meghalaya.

The transformation took place as BJP managed to shed its hardline Hindutva stance and forge friendships through the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA)-a platform for parties in the region opposed to the Congress, which had been the biggest national player in the region until a few years ago.

But the goodwill and votes garnered by projecting the party as the true friend of the region could now backfire as there's fear that the BJP could use the Citizenship (Amendment) Bil to secure the votes something that could sideline indigenous voters who see a threat to their language, culture, land rights and identity.

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