Modi Government’s failure in tabling the most controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday triggered a massive celebration across the North-East region. The Budget session was the last Parliament session of the present government. The 17th Lok Sabha has to be constituted before June 3. Lok Sabha polls are due this summer.
As soon as the news of the Bill not being passed in the Rajya Sabha came in, student bodies, civil society groups and political parties in Assam erupted in celebrations, saying it was the victory of all the people in the North-East. People across Assam and neighbouring states took to the streets bursting firecrackers, singing, dancing and organising victory rallies.
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The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 was intended at providing Indian citizenship to all immigrants except Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence even if they do not have any documents. The legislation, passed by the Lok Sabha during the winter session on January 8, had been awaiting the Rajya Sabha’s approval.
There has been strong opposition to the Bill in Assam and other Northeastern states. Student organisations, political parties and socio-cultural bodies have been protesting on the grounds that it seeks to grant nationality to non-Muslims who have come into India up to December 31, 2014, thereby increasing the deadline from 1971 as per the Assam Accord. According to the Assam Accord all illegal immigrants who have come after 1971, irrespective of their religion, have to be deported and this bill violates that.
However, the controversial issue of citizenship made leaders in the States ruled by the BJP alone or in alliance with regional parties because of widespread protests while Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma emerged as the “tallest leader” for his stand against the legislation. Mr. Sangma’s National People’s Party is an ally of the BJP and heads the coalition government in Meghalaya. His party is a minor partner of the BJP in Manipur and Nagaland.
“The North-East came together as one against the Bill. Their spontaneous protests prevented the Centre from tabling the Bill, thus saving democracy and the secular fabric on the country,” All Assam Students’ Union chief advisor Samujjal K. Bhattacharya said.
“Apart from the people, the bold decision of the Chief Ministers of the Northeast – barring Assam and Tripura – to go against their own party or ally made the BJP back off. The Chief Minister of Meghalaya deserves our gratitude for this day,” RTI activist and peasants’ leader Akhil Gogoi said.
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Two BJP Chief Ministers of the North-East – Arunachal Pradesh’s Pema Khandu and Manipur’s N Biren Dinghhave also raised their voices against the contentious Bill. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the bill is an “atonement of the wrong that was done during India’s Partition. India will safeguard all who had been victims of the Partition”.
The student body leaders and members of civil society groups thanked Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma for his bold stand against the Bill. Mr. Sangma had threatened to sever all links with the National Democratic Alliance and topple the BJP-led Manipur government. In Upper Assam, all those who opposed the bill busted crackers and distributed sweets, accusing the BJP-led alliance government of backing the “anti-people” Bill at the command of the RSS.