MHA damage control to ease mounting opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

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The opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which picked up momentum from January 8, 2019, when the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and is pending in the Rajya Sabha is not showing any signs of abatement. The North Eastern region is spearheading the demand for the scrapping of the Bill while expressing fears that the implementation of the same will threaten the identity of the indigenous communities. Getting into damage control mode, the Union Home Ministry (MHA) on January 22, 2019 said that under the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, nobody would be granted Indian citizenship without the consent of the respective state government.

MHA spokesperson Ashok Prasad also informed that each and every individual application for Indian citizenship will have to be inquired into by the District Magistrate (DM), who will analyze each case and give recommendations to the state government. The state government also has to do its inquiry through its agencies.

The clarification was necessitated as the media survey of the Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government is showing a decline of the popularity of both the party and the party Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. In the case of the North East, following the success in Assam, the BJP succeeded to put in place a government in Arunachal Pradesh by breaking the Congress. The euphoria continued as the BJP took power in Manipur and Tripura and became part of the ruling alliance in Nagaland and Meghalaya, stunning the Congress.

However, since January 8, the people of all north-eastern states have taken to the streets against the Bill, the North East Student’s Union (NESO) a conglomeration of most student bodies of the region had also called for a shutdown in the entire northeastern states.

Chief Adviser of North East Students’ Organization (NESO), Samujjal Bhattacharya stated that the Bill has to go. NESO is not going to tolerate this at any cost, he said while adding that the Assam Accord was a national commitment and it was mutually agreed that those who have come to Assam before March 24, 1971 will be considered as Indian citizens while those who came after the cut-off date will be detected as illegal foreigners and deported. Bhattacharya said that a small state like Assam had already taken the burden of illegal migrants who have come till the cut off date while adding that the state cannot accept any more burden.

Another pressure group in Assam, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), is also leading a conglomeration of 70 organisations against the Bill.

According to KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi, the BJP, which came to power in Assam in 2016, had promised to protect the Jati, Mati and Bheti. But it is now set to grant citizenship to the illegal Hindu Bengalis living in Assam which the KMSS will not tolerate.

The BJP, which had been gradually making its presence felt in the region after the party’s victory in Assam in 2016, is eyeing at least 21 of the total 25 Lok Sabha seats in the eight northeastern states including 11 of the 14 seats in Assam alone.

In 2016, the saffron party dethroned the Congress, which had ruled Assam for 15 long years. Riding on a promise of change led by Modi, it won 61 of the total 126 Assembly seats and formed a government by joining hands with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF).

While the AGP has already distanced itself from the BJP, other allies like the National Peoples’ Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) of Nagaland and Mizo National Front (MNF) have expressed their opposition to the Bill.

Now with the assurances of the MHA every single application will need the consent of the respective state government, yet the Opposition forces are not ready to accept the Bill as it provides for making non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, facing persecution in these countries, eligible for Indian citizenship after their stay in India for seven years.

The region, since Independence has been fighting to protect the interest of the indigenous tribal of respective states, particularly preserving the cultural and traditional practices. The inter-marriage not only on tribe, caste, greed, even religious denomination has always been issues of conflict. The phobia of influx has actually insulated the respective states within the region which has resulted in the adoption of an introvert attitude, it might have slowed down the development and dissuaded the investors from outside, but the comfort and self governances are dear to the citizen from the region. The region fears that the implementation of the Bill will result in a change of the demography even as in the past, it was alleged that all such infiltrators serve as vote banks and now this Bill it will only affirm the same motive.

The Bill came just few months away from the General Election to Lok Sabha and has become the main agenda for the election campaign. Then come issues like Demonetization, Goods & Services Tax (GST), understanding the damage caused, the Ruling NDA will have to make all efforts to regain the trust and confidence of the electorate particularly from the North Eastern Region on such issues.