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Amendments to Citizenship Act in Assam is BJP’s Political Ploy

Caught in the political slugfest on citizenship, it’s the people of Assam who’re suffering, writes Anuraag Baruah.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read


People   participate in the funeral of the two persons killed in 19 September eviction drive   near Kaziranga National Park, in Nagaon of Assam on  20 September, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
… provided that persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants…
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2016

‘Secularism’ in India always has been a one of its kind issue. For example, it’s a paradox that the two major political parties of a secular country like India — Congress and BJP — have allegedly always favoured a particular religion over the other for the sake of vote bank politics.

In Assam, if Congress has been acting blind all these years and refusing to acknowledge the presence of illegal Bangladeshi (Muslim) migrants in the state, the BJP has taken it a notch higher this time by planning to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 and confer Indian citizenship on Bangladeshi Hindus in the name of humanity invoking ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ rhetoric.

Also Read: No Stake in Resources for B’deshi Illegal Migrants: Hazarika Panel

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Granting Citizenship in the Name of Religion

What is most unfortunate is perhaps the fact that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2016 plans to confer citizenship on people in the name of religion, thus, shaking up the so-called ‘secular’ base of the Indian democracy and Constitution.

Also, the fact that the state of Assam shares a considerable border area with Bangladesh making it a major and natural stakeholder in the whole affair of accepting Hindu Bangladeshis, nulls some claims by prominent BJP leaders like Himanta Biswa Sharma that the new Act won’t have any particular impact on the demography of Assam.

Also Read: Why Privatisation of 12 Oilfields in Assam is an Emotive Issue



Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal giving away cheques to cancer, heart and kidney patients under Assam Arogya Nidhi Programme in Guwahati, 2 October, 2016. (Photo:PTI)
Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal giving away cheques to cancer, heart and kidney patients under Assam Arogya Nidhi Programme in Guwahati, 2 October, 2016. (Photo:PTI)
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Assam Accord Had Brought a Sense of Closure

“It’s like reopening an old wound that had healed over time,” said a senior AASU (All Assam Students Union) leader from Upper Assam. With the signing of the Assam Accord, the confusion and conflict over the foreigner’s issue had come to a closure at least with the unanimous acceptance of a common cut-off date — 24 March, 1971.

But with the amendments proposed to the Citizenship Act, the 1971 as the cut-off year becomes invalid, thus, directly coming into conflict with the Assam Accord, the very backbone of the Assamese identity politics.

What is most ironical is the fact that one of the prominent ex-leaders of AASU and also the man behind scrapping of the controversial IMDT Act, Sarbananda Sonowal, now CM of Assam, has failed to protect the validity and sanctity of the Assam Accord by advocating the new Act.


People submit duly filled in National Register of Citizens (NRC) forms on the last day of submission in Guwahati, on 31 August 2015. (Photo: IANS)
People submit duly filled in National Register of Citizens (NRC) forms on the last day of submission in Guwahati, on 31 August 2015. (Photo: IANS)
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Amendments Contradict the Ongoing NRC Updation

The ongoing process of updating the NRC (National Register of Citizens) has anyway received much flak over its method, and its effectiveness now seems to be completely mocked at by this new Act.

The fact that the NRC updating process is going on with 1971 as the cut-off year has been ignored by this new Act as now illegal migrants that have come to India even after 1971 can easily claim citizenship in the name of specified accepted religions under the new Act.

One senior RSS leader from Assam who refused to be named, however, said something very different and interesting, “It’s for the NRC only that this new Act has been introduced as many Hindu people who came to Assam before and after 1971 are now struggling to get registered under the NRC.”



Authorities carry out eviction drive in Banderdubi village under Kaliabor subdivision near Kaziranga National Park in Assam on 19 September, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
Authorities carry out eviction drive in Banderdubi village under Kaliabor subdivision near Kaziranga National Park in Assam on 19 September, 2016. (Photo: IANS)
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Vote Bank Politics

In the run-up to the Assam Assembly Elections of 2016, and in the results (vote count and vote share) that followed, one fact that became very clear was that the Bengali Muslims of Bangladeshi origin across the length and breadth of Assam were the only major supporters of the Congress.

The almost complete rout of the Congress especially from the Upper Assam region, which is known to have comparatively scanty percentage of Bengali Muslims of Bangladeshi origin, is perhaps the best proof of the above mentioned fact.

Isn’t BJP trying to create a similar, corresponding vote bank by welcoming the Hindu Bangladeshis to Assam to further consolidate Hindu voters, its traditional vote base?

And this, at a time when the new BJP government in Assam has employed a bulldozing attitude towards the illegal Bangladeshi migrants. The Kaziranga eviction case in which two innocents lost their lives allegedly in clashes between the government forces and the so-called encroachers, who were mostly of Bengali Muslim origin, is significant.

Not letting the chance go, AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal has claimed that the evicted people are actually political victims as they belonged to the Muslim community. “Are bullets saved only for Muslim protesters?”, he is reported to have asked.

‘Axomiya’ Reduced to a Minority?

As per the 2001 census, Assamese speakers in the state were already less than 50 percent (Bengali speakers were 27.5 percent) and it’s well known that the number would have been much lesser hadn’t many Bengali Muslims registered themselves as Assamese speakers at that point of time. More than a decade has passed and a new wave of self-identity has gripped each and every community of the state.

‘Miyah Poetry’, a new literary revolution among poets and writers of the Bengali-origin Muslims of Assam is a fine example. With the passage of this new Act (that will confer citizenship to around 30 lakh Hindu Bangladeshis) in the backdrop of these small and big self-identity quests and the rising Bengali speaking population in the state, Assamese language and culture might soon be a thing of the past. And the reports of the Language Census of 2011 are yet to be made public by the government.

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(The writer is a Guwahati-based freelance journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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