India passes contentious citizenship bill that excludes Muslims

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

India passes contentious citizenship bill that excludes Muslims

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on Monday, walked out of its alliance with the BJP in the northeast state, over the Citizenship ( amendment ) Bill 2016.

The decision followed an AGP delegation's meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi, who asserted that the government will ensure its passage in Lok Sabha Tuesday, Bora said.

Introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016, the Bill seeks to enable Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh without valid travel documents or those whose valid documents expired in recent years to acquire Indian citizenship through the process of naturalisation.

On the other hand, a group of activists under the banner of Confederation of HynAiewtrep Social Organisation staged a protest in front of the BJP's office demanding that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill not be passed.

The Assam Accord which was signed in 1985 after a six-year long agitation to drive out illegal foreigners from Assam sets March 25, 1971 as the cutoff date to identify and deport illegal foreigners irrespective of religion, caste or creed. Another group of people protested outside the Assam Bhavan in Chanakyapuri, waving black flags and raising slogans.

The Deputy Chief Minister said that there should have been a clause in the bill to exempt the Northeastern region from the purview of the legislation. "Numerous constituents of the NEDA including Mizoram's ruling party Mizo National Front (MNF) are also opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill", Debbarma said.

".we have been clear to the NDA government that this [the bill] is something we will not support".

Interestingly, while all these was happening outside the office of the Cachar Deputy Commissioner, members of North East Linguistic and Ethnic Coordination Committee (NELECC) hailed the developments and termed this to be a historic move to solve a perrinial problem faced by the people of Assam. "AGP is with the sentiments of people of Assam and the BJP against, and that is the main difference". "It is the BJP which is responsible for AGP's quitting the alliance and they (BJP) should step down immediately", said the former chief Minister.

Later, Bora told a television channel, "We felt betrayed at the BJP's attitude towards the bill as when we entered into the alliance, we were convinced Prime Minister Narendra Modi was committed to resolve the issue of illegal migrants.We never dreamt that the BJP could do this to the people of Assam".

The AGP, with 14 seats in the 126-member legislative assembly, had entered into an alliance with the BJP before the 2014 assembly polls. They also pelted stones in many parts of Assam.

Several students" bodies of the region have made a decision to observe the "bandh' in support of the call given by the North East Students' Organisation (NESO), an umbrella organisation of students' unions, of which the AASU is a constituent.

Besides Congress, the CPI (M)-led Left parties, BJP allies Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), National People's Party in Meghalaya, Mizo National Front and most other regional parties are strongly opposing the bill, and have demanded its withdrawal. Even the governments of Meghalaya and Mizoram have opposed the bill adopting resolutions against it. 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.

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