Protests intensified in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2016, with the protesters targeting lawmakers wherever they find them. On Sunday, anti-Bill protesters showed black flags to Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in Guwahati and Kaliabor in Central Assam as his convoy passed through.
In Assam’s Golaghat district, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) president and state Agriculture Minister Atul Bora got stranded as protesters gheraoed his private residence there. Several other leaders including ministers, MPs and MLAs had to face the wrath of angry protesters.
In Dibrugarh, the AGP office was vandalised by protesters who staged a demonstration outside the private residence of BJP MLA Prasanta Phukan. The AGP that was born out of the Assam Agitation is an ally of the BJP and a constituent of the state’s three-party ruling coalition. Earlier in May last year, the AGP had not only opposed the Bill, but had also threatened to withdraw support from the government, if the Bill is introduced. For its change in stance, the AGP has been scorned by Assamese people who are left with uncertainty surrounding their future.
AGP leader and the state’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister Phani Bhushan Choudhury had to run to safety on Saturday to escape the rage of protesters. He faced protest at Manikpur in Assam’s Bongaigaon district where he had gone to attend a programme of his party.
“The government wants to give citizenship to those who have entered Assam after 1971, and stayed here for 43 years till 2014. The Central government will grant citizenship to those illegal Hindu Bangladeshis – Assam is not a grazing ground for migrants. Congress had imposed IMDT Act to protect illegal Bangladeshis, and now the BJP wants to impose CAB. They say ILP areas will be exempted from CAB – can they explain how the Bill can benefit other areas where it will be imposed?” asked All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya, adding that the Bill violates the Assam Accord, and is ‘communal’ and ‘unconstitutional’ in nature.
“The consultation with stakeholders was just hogwash – they wanted to show that their government is democratic and have not passed the legislation without discussion. We plan to intensify protests in the coming days. It will be a mass movement,” said AASU general secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi.
In Guwahati, posters and notices were seen outside the residences of Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and AGP leader Dr Kamala Kanta Kalita, poking fun at the government representatives. Protestors also put up a poster of “missing” Rajya Sabha member and senior AGP leader Birendra Prasad Baishya seeking information about him, miffed over the silence of the otherwise vociferous parliamentarian over Citizenship Bill.
Meanwhile, the protests against the Bill were staged at many places of Assam on Sunday. Pro-talks faction leader of rebel group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Anup Chetia, accused the government of creating an Assam Agitation-type situation. Hundreds of lives were lost in the six-year-long Assam Agitation of the early 1980s which led to the signing of the Assam Accord between Rajiv Gandhi government and AASU in 1985.
RTI activist and leader of peasants’ body Krishak Mukti Sangram Samitee (KMSS), Akhil Gogoi, on Sunday appealed to the people to stand up against the Bill. He had earlier warned of “Assam ceasing to be part of India” if the government does not withdraw the Bill.
The KMSS leaders plan to visit villages across the state from December 11 and hold public meetings to mobilise opinions and raise awareness against the Bill.
Elsewhere in Manipur, security forces personnel stood guard as a crowd of women vendors at Ima market in Imphal continued chanting anti-government slogans. Hanging placards at their stalls that read, “Give Peace, Not Pieces”, “No CAB in Northeast”, the women folk staged a protest demonstration against the Bill this morning facing resistance from security personnel.
Beginning midnight of Sunday, the Manipur People against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 (MANPAC), a conglomerate of 88 CSOs of the state, has called for a 50-hour mass protest that will continue till Wednesday morning.
“Let them pass the Bill, our people will decide on the future course of action. It is like a war crime – totally genocidal. The Central government said they are bringing CAB in the larger national interest — whose national interest is it? Who are we? This is so shameful. It is not a democratic government, but we are ruled by a colonial concept of administration,” said NEFIP President Ningthoujam Lancha.
“The new draft Bill is totally apolitical bluff — the meaning of “exemption” is not clearly defined, and what do you mean by tribal areas? CAB is a process to naturalise the illegal immigrants — out of the six communities to be granted citizenship, 80 percent are Hindus. Both Citizenship Bill and NRC are antagonistic — let them first scrap the Bill, then talk about NRC. It is completely political manoeuvring,” added Lancha.
Both MANPAC and Northeast Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP) were earlier left behind when Union Home Minister Amit Shah held discussions on the contentious bill with CSOs, student bodies and political parties of the state in New Delhi.
“They tried to befool people through our Chief Minister who told us about some assurances from the Central government, only verbal assurances though. The day Home Minister Amit Shah held discussion with stakeholders from Assam till past midnight, we waited. We then met him and Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and discussed our concerns till 12:45 am. But they failed to accommodate and acknowledge our sentiments,” said the NEFIP President, terming the consultation “stage-managed”.
The Tripura United Indigenous Peoples Council (TUIPC), a joint body of 48 returnee insurgents’ organisations, has called for a 50-hour Tripura bandh beginning Monday in demand of a withdrawal of the redrafted Bill. Further, the Joint Movement Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (JMACB), a joint committee of Tripuras’s tribal groups and social organisations including the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), the National Conference of Tripura (NCT), Twipraland State Party (TSP), has called for an indefinite strike tomorrow onwards.
“We are peace-loving people in Tripura. But, if we are oppressed for too long, and beyond our tolerance, the sentiments of young people will go out of hand for leaders. They are bringing the Bill to reject our rights, so that we exist nowhere on our own soil,” said INPT Chief Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl.
The ruling ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) has also called for a 12-hour shutdown in the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) areas on December 9 in protest against the Bill.
NESO calls for 11-hour Northeast Bandh
The North East Students' Organisation (NESO) comprising of all student organisations of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura has been long demanding that the entire region be exempted from Citizenship (Amendment) Bill – exempting Nagaland from the bandh due to the ongoing Hornbill Festival, the organisation has called for an 11-hour shutdown in Northeast on December 10 to protest against the Bill. The NESO leadership said that “piecemeal” solutions will not solve the issue.
First Published: IST