[ Tongam Rina ]
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 has been passed by the Lok Sabha even as there was a total shutdown in the Northeast region against the bill on Tuesday. The bill, when it becomes an act, will allow illegal migrants, based on their religious identities, to claim Indian citizenship.
The bill seeks to allow illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become eligible for Indian citizenship, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955, which had no space for illegal immigrants.
There have been simmering protests in Assam since the bill was tabled as it contradicts the 1985 Assam Accord which says that all illegal migrants who came from Bangladesh to Assam after March 1971 would be deported.
Following opposition to the bill in Assam, the bill, though it was tabled in the Lok Sabha in 2016, had not moved further and was sent to a joint parliamentary committee (JPC). On the basis of the recommendations of the JPC, a fresh bill was introduced on Tuesday. The Rajya Sabha will take up the bill on Wednesday.
Experts say that the bill, which does not mention persecuted Muslims, contradicts Article 14 of the Indian constitution.
Several organizations, notably the North East Students’ Organisation and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KKMS) have been protesting against the bill since 2016, but it appears that the Centre did not register any of the protests.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking reelection in May 2019, in a speech in Silchar said the bill would be passed to “amend historical mistakes.” The speech was enough to flare resentment across the region.
In opposition to the bill, the Asom Gana Parishad has already exited the BJP-led coalition in Assam while members of the KKMS and several other organisations of Assam protested naked in New Delhi against the Centre’s move and the prime minister’s speech.
The large-scale protest against the bill in the region is prompted by the fear that the bill, once it becomes an act, will give a legitimate reason to the illegal migrants to claim citizenship. The fear of the indigenous communities is that migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, will outnumber them. The fear may appear xenophobic, but the region has seen large-scale migration from Bangladesh, particularly in Assam, leading to social unrest in the past.
Now, instead of addressing the concerns of the people, the Lok Sabha has just passed the bill, which will certainly flare up more protests in the days to come.
If the Centre and the state governments do not handle the situation well, it is likely that there will be further unrest and chaos in the region. With the parliamentary elections coming up in a few months, it remains to be seen how the BJP negotiates with the region.
[ Tongam Rina ]