Citizenship bill: Assam minister says protests unfounded

GUWAHATI: The Assam government on Friday said protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 “at this juncture” are unfounded and that it will announce its official stand after the Supreme Court-monitored exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is over by June 30.

The BJP-led coalition government in Assam has been under pressure from regional ally Asom Gana Parishad and NGOs to “learn from its Meghalaya counterpart” and make its position on the “contentious bill” clear.

“The protests are unnecessary since the JPC is hearing the views of stakeholders and has not submitted its report. The BJP-led government will never take a decision that goes against the people of Assam,” Chandra Mohan Patowary, Industries Minister and government spokesperson, said on Friday.

“Meghalaya has taken a decision because it is not updating NRC. We have to honour the court and as such will make our stand clear once the NRC exercise, which is 80% through, is completed,” Mr. Patowary said.

The apex court wants the final list of the NRC to be announced by June 30. A partial list was published on December 31 last year.

The minister also came down heavily on the Congress for its “two-faced approach” to the citizenship bill. “The Congress had started it all with a Cabinet resolution in July 2014 for granting asylum to persecuted minorities in Bangladesh. The party is now opposing the bill in Brahmaputra Valley while supporting it in Barak Valley,” he said.

Mr. Patowary deflected criticism of this government by saying that the BJP, with majority at the Centre, could have passed the bill but sought to get the views unlike the Congress that pushed through the now-defunct Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1985.

“The Congress did not think of taking the views of people in Assam on the IMDT Act that Sarbanada Sonowal got scrapped in 2005. But the BJP values the opinion of the people and formed the JPC. And until the JPC submits its report, protests against a future scenario are unfounded,” he said.

The 16-member JPC headed by BJP parliamentarian Rajendra Agarwal, meanwhile, ended its two-day hearing in Meghalaya on Friday. “We have conveyed the government’s stand to the committee,” the state’s Chief Secretary Y Tsering said.

“Everyone in Meghalaya has opposed the bill because of fear of cultural and demographic threat,” Assam MP Bhubaneswar Kalita, one of the JPC members, said.

Arunachal worry

A delegation of All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) that met the JPC in Meghalaya capital Shillong on Thursday cautioned that the frontier state would burn if New Delhi passes the citizenship bill.

“This controversial bill will serve as a legal basis for furthering and legitimising the claims of Chakma and Hajong refugees as indigenous people and defeat the very purpose of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873 and various other regulations currently in force in the State,” AAPSU general secretary Tobom Dai said.

The bill seeks to grant citizenship to the people from minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh after six years of residence in India.

“As the Chakmas are Buddhists and Hajongs are Hindus, the bill if passed shall automatically make their claims more legitimate,” Mr. Dai said, adding the bill would also make the Buddhist Tibetans eligible for being a tribe in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Chakma and Hajongs, displaced by the Kaptai Dam in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and religious persecution, were settled in Arunachal Pradesh in the 1960s. Many Tibetans have also taken refuge in the state since the flight of the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959.

“The Centre should respect the sentiments and aspirations of the indigenous communities and not vitiate the already fragile atmosphere in the Northeast,” Mr. Dai said.

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