BJP's Shillong Office Bombed as Groups Protest Citizenship Bill

Minnie Murray
January 9, 2019

Thousands in northeastern India protested on Monday against a proposal to grant citizenship to religious minorities in the region, except Muslims, with critics attacking the bill as prejudiced and a sop to Hindus before elections.

On Sunday, senior Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said if the Citizenship bill isn't brought in, "at least 17 assembly seats will go to Jinnahs".

Notably, unlike previous occasions, ugly protestors trying to impose bandh by burning tyres and damaging public property have not been witnessed anywhere in Guwahati as well as other parts in the State till the time of filing of this report.

The Bill, which seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities - Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians - from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don't possess any proper document, is expected to be tabled in Lok Sabha today.

Protests have erupted in recent months and on Monday in Assam, where a movement against illegal immigrants, of all religions, from Bangladesh has simmered for decades, with some residents blaming them for eating into their resources and job opportunities.

The goal of NRC is to identify those people who immigrated, illegally, from Bangladesh to Assam after 24 March 1971. It has faced allround resistance in Assam, including from NDA ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which quit the BJP-led Assam government.

In the Lok Sabha, the Home Minister said leaders like former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Manmohan Singh have backed such a provision in the past.

The political parties and the civil society opposing the proposed law say it would allow citizenship to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came to the state after March 1971, in violation to the Assam Accord, 1985.

The Bill provides granting Indian citizenship to the Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of residence in India, instead of 12 years now even if they do not possess any document.

The AGP had earlier expressed reservations with the Bill saying it would make the Assam Accord meaningless.

"Let us see. We will call a party meeting and decide how the future roadmap", he said. The government had argued that the bill is meant to those "escaping persecution" and not for economic migrants.

"We, therefore, can not remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi government". The Home Minister said that the bill is meant for migrants who have settled down in states including Rajasthan, Delhi and Punjab.

Later in the evening, AAPSU president Hawa Bagang and general secretary Tobom Dai said it was unfortunate that the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha despite objection from the people of the Northeast.

The bill has been opposed by large sections of people and organisations in the Northeast. As the government did not heed to the demand, the Congress staged a walkout. "We therefore can not remain an ally of the BJP after this move by the Modi government", AGP president Atul Bora said.

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