The BJP government in Assam has not even completed six months in office but agitations have started against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was introduced by the Centre in July. Keeping its promise to provide succour to refugees from neighbouring countries, the Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act so that Hindus, Sikhs and other minorities from these nations could be granted citizenship even if they do not provide the required documents.
This Bill did not come as a surprise since the BJP had been talking for a long while about the need to give persecuted minorities from those three countries and six communities Indian citizenship subject to certain conditions.
The protests that have started in Assam against the Bill are premised on the fact that Hindu Bangladeshis will overshadow the Assamese identity. But protesters such as former chief minister Prafulla Mahanta and activist Akhil Gogoi are giving the wrong figures of migrants: Post-March 1971, the number of Hindu Bengalis who came in is hardly about 1.5 lakh as compared to the 55 lakh Muslim illegal migrants.
Even former Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi who ruled the state for 15 years is seeing this as an opportunity to gain political limelight and has changed his stance to oppose the Bill.
Additionally, the opposition is hiding the fact that the Bill applies to the country and is not Assam specific.
While the Bill proposes to reduce the number of years from 11 to six, which a person is required to live in India out of 14 years, to obtain citizenship by naturalisation, this could be further relaxed as the persecuted people from the six religions and three countries would have nowhere to go.
Thirty years have passed since the signing of the Assam accord in 1985 and the AGP and the Congress have failed to implement the accord while in power and the illegal migrant issue.
These are the same people that have remained indifferent to the corrupt network in the state administration that issued identity documents like ration cards to illegal settlers for paltry bribes and also sold land to these illegal settlers and employed many of them for labour or domestic help.
For Assam to grow economically, social and ethnic harmony have to be maintained. The state has lost years to movements, bandhs and militancy and these have affected the economy badly.
The government needs to deal maturely and sternly with protests against the Bill and ensure that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed by Parliament.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is a defence and cyber policy analyst
The views expressed are personal