Just a few months ago, anti-government demonstrations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the Centre’s move to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan had rocked Assam and other Northeastern states.
The issue has now resurfaced with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently announcing that people in Northeast have nothing to fear as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) that the Centre attempts to reintroduce would not dilute existing laws and regulations including state laws for protecting the cultural, linguistic and other rights of the indigenous people.
At the fourth conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) held in Guwahati on Monday, Shah addressed the fears expressed by a few chief ministers of Northeast over Citizenship Bill and the ‘spillover effect’ of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The North East Forum for Indigenous People (NEFIP) – a conglomerate of different organisations from the seven northeastern states while welcoming the home minister's assurances also termed such efforts as ‘empty, misleading and double standard’.
“The very concept of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is an attempt to naturalise citizenship of illegal immigrants in the region. We strongly oppose the proposed bill in its present form that seeks to make drastic changes in the citizenship and immigration norms of the country by relaxing the criteria to become an Indian citizen,” said NEFIP leader Khuraijam Athouba.
The NEFIP comprises members from the Assam’s League of Aborigines Rights Movement (ALARM), United Arunachal Indigenous People’s Forum (UAIPF), Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organizations (CoMSO), Manipur People against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (MANPAC), the Mizo Students’ Union (MSU), Nagaland’s Joint Committee for prevention of Illegal Immigrants (JCPI) and Twipra Social Organizations’ Solidarity (Twipra-SOS).
“We appeal to the leadership at the Centre not to take the Northeast indigenous people for a ride with rhetoric assurances, but to address our concerns with all seriousness and with pragmatic approach,” Athouba added.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) while criticising the silent stance adopted by Assam Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leadership during the NEDA meet reiterated their commitment to oppose the bill and continue with their agitation.
“People of Assam are not fools. We will continue to oppose the bill with the help and support of indigenous people, and in the coming days launch an even stronger anti-bill agitation,” said AASU General Secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi.
Speaking at the NEDA conclave on Monday, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had stated before Home Minster Amit Shah that the Northeast has fears on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, and urged him to take all the states of the region into confidence before bringing in the legislation again. Sangma questioned whether the Centre will bypass discussions with the states before reintroducing the bill.
"What will happen after CAB? Will people continuously come from Bangladesh? Will there be any deadline or a continuous flow? We in Northeast have such fears," said Sangma.
The government said the proposed bill will have December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date and anyone arriving after this date will not be granted Indian citizenship. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that the Government will not let a single “ghuspethi” to live in Assam, or any part of the country. NEDA Convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma added that the proposed Citizenship Bill “will not in any way override the existing provisions of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution or the provisions of Inner Line Permit".
The Lok Sabha had passed the bill on January 8, but it had lapsed after failing to clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle in the budget session of Parliament, the last before the general elections.(With PTI inputs)