Politics hots up amidst CAA row in Assam

Series of protests by students, singers, academicians, writers, journalists, etc are being held across the state to demand withdrawal of the CAA, reports Nava Thakuria

Most of northeast Indian localities, precisely the Brahmaputra valley of Assam, are passing through an uproarious situation as the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB) was passed in the Parliament and subsequently endorsed by the President. A series of protest-demonstrations were observed with the participation of locals including student leaders, singers, academicians, writers, journalists, etc with the sole demand to repeal the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA).

The CAB, which argued for Indian citizenship to religious persecuted asylum seekers including Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi, Jain families in Muslim dominated Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh (who came prior to 31 December 2014), was easily passed in Lok Sabha (on 9 December) where the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) enjoys the majority. It was later passed in Rajya Sabha (11 Dec) with significant vote differences and subsequently endorsed by President next day.

Putting voices for the specific bill that aimed to amend the Citizenship Act 1955, Union home minister Amit Shah quoted Mahatma Gandhi as saying on 26 September 1947 that Hindu and Sikh people living in Pakistan can fearlessly come to India as it would be the duty of India to give them shelter and jobs. During the RS debates, Shah also pointed out that the Liaquat-Nehru pact on 8 April 1950 agreed that both Pakistan and India would treat respective minorities with dignity.

On the debate, why Muslims have been kept aside in the process, Shah categorically sated that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh follow their constitutions where it is defined that those are Islamic nations and no Muslim can be religious minority there. He however clarified that India has provisions for Muslim victims of persecution and they are being given citizenship on case to case basis. At the same pace, he assured that Indian Muslims need not to worry as the CAB (CAA) would not affect them.

On the northeastern region, where anti-CAB protests had already gained momentum, Shah declared that the amended CAB had exempted all States under the inner line permit (ILP) arrangement and localities declared under the sixth schedule to the Constitution. With the amendments northeastern States namely Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and lately Manipur were given immunities, whereas major areas of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura were also kept outside the CAA.

Nonetheless, the Brahmaputra valley of Assam erupted in a series of protests against the CAA for many weeks now. Assamese protesters have come to the streets raising voices against the CAA as they apprehend that it would destroy their language and culture. They would not digest the arguments for making the CAA secular (read inclusion of Muslim asylum seekers) and they are determined that no illegal migrant (irrespective of his/her religions) should be settled in Assam after March 25, 1971 (mentioned in Assam Accord).

Continuous protest-demonstrations by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parisahd (AJYCP), a section of Assamese performing artistes along with their associates had lately hinted to form a political party eying the forthcoming  State 

Assembly elections in 2021. Even though the agitators were waiting for the Supreme Court’s directive as another hearing (on CAA) was scheduled on January 22, they have unofficially
declared that a new regional party was emerging to counter the BJP in Assam.

AASU leaders namely Samujjal Bhattacharya, Dipanka Nath and Lurinjyoti Gogoi along with popular Assamese singer Zubeen Garg and his thousands of fans expressed confident that the electorate would this time reject the saffron party. They were morally supported by many Assamese academicians, lawyers, writers, media personalities etc in their mission. But various active anti-CAA civil society groups including Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (whose top leader Akhil Gogoi is behind the bars for NIA charges) are yet to make up their mind.

However, the proposed regional political party has drawn the attention of the opposition Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). Veteran Congress leader and former State chief minister Tarun Gogoi welcomed the initiative and he publicly announced that they would think of going for an alliance with the new party. Later AIUDF supremo Badrauddin Ajmal also extended supports to the party so that the saffron party could be challenged in the coming State and general elections.

Facing the heat of disapproval and rejections across the Brahmaputra valley, the saffron leaders swiftly came to action with an aim to mobilize the people in their favour. BJP’s State unit in association with their political allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) started organizing spectacular peace rallies (read pro-CAA gathering) in different localities. Started at Nalbari in western Assam, the ruling parties continue their rallies at Sarbhog (Barpeta), Jagiroad, Sualkuchi, Biswanath, etc with massive supports from their well-wishers.

Recently, the BJP organized a booth-level conclave in Guwahati, where the national working president JP Nadda, general secretary Ram Madhav, State chief minister Sarbanand Sonowal, State BJP president Ranjeet Kr Dass, State minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, etc were present to clarify that the CAA would not be harmful for the people of Assam and northeast India. They also alleged that the Congress leaders were trying to manipulate the anti-CAA stir for their political gains.

Addressing a strong over 75000 saffron supporters, Nadda reassured that the Centre is committed for safeguarding the language & indigenous cultures of northeastern residents besides developing the region. Criticizing the Congress leaders for spreading misinformation about the CAA across the country, Nadda appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Shah for showing the political will to take initiative for the persecuted asylum seekers.

Sonowal targeted both the Congress and Left parties for spreading misinformation that over one crore  Bangladeshi Hindu nationals would be settled in Assam with the CAA arrangements. He was supported by Sarma asserted that the number of CAA beneficiaries in Assam would never cross five lakh. Lambasting the anti-national elements, the North-East Democratic Alliance convener declared that he would leave the politics if the number (CAA beneficiaries) goes above five lakh in the State.

Rejecting any possibility of success with a new political party in the State, Sarma claimed that the saffron party would get not less than 100 seats in the 126-member State Assembly polls scheduled for early next year. Commenting on anti-CAA protests, he stated that the government has no problem with peaceful & democratic movements, but the vandalism and violence would not be tolerated under any circumstances. Sarma also asked the agitators to challenge the government with electoral political exercises.

The author is a northeast India based political analyst. Views expressed are his own