Assam: BJP leaders and migrants hopeful that Citizenship Bill will become law
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Assam: BJP leaders and migrants hopeful that Citizenship Bill will become law

BJP leaders in Assam’s Bengali-speaking Barak Valley are hopeful that the bill will be passed in Parliament in the Budget session after it was stalled in the Rajya Sabha.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2019 10:17 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Silchar/Guwahati
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill,Assam,BJP
The Lok Sabha passed the bill on Tuesday and its passage in the Rajya Sabha could boost the BJP’s fortunes in general elections later this year among the Bengali speaking Hindu population of Assam, many of whom migrated from Bangladesh and erstwhile East Pakistan. (PTI)

BJP leaders in Assam’s Bengali-speaking Barak Valley, where there is wide support for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill for non-Muslims unlike the Assamese-majority Brahmaputra Valley, are hopeful that the bill will be passed in Parliament in the Budget session after it was stalled in the Rajya Sabha.

The Lok Sabha passed the bill on Tuesday and its passage in the Rajya Sabha could boost the BJP’s fortunes in general elections later this year among the Bengali speaking Hindu population of Assam, many of whom migrated from Bangladesh and erstwhile East Pakistan.

The Bill has ignited widespread opposition in the Brahmaputra Valley leading to the BJP’s alliance partner Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) walking out of the state government while the All Assam Students Union and other organizations called a bandh on January 8 to protest the proposed law.

Assamese groups also claim it is a violation of the Assam Accord which promised deportation of foreigners even as they claim it will open floodgates for Hindus in Bangladesh to move to Assam.

But the BJP is convinced that the bill is a necessity. Senior BJP leader and Assam cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said recently that “without the Bill 17 Assam Assembly seats would have gone to Jinnah.”

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would pave way for citizenship to persecuted minorities including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains Buddhists and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“Now that the Joint Parliamentary Committee has submitted its report and it has been passed in the Lok Sabha, people have no doubt about the intentions of the party,” said Kabindra Purkayastha, a former Union Minister, and a senior BJP leader from Barak Valley.

“We are hopeful that the Bill will be passed in the next session or the government will bring an ordinance,” Purkayastha said referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise in the recent rally in Silchar.

In the January 4 rally, Prime Minister Modi said, he hoped for the Bill’s quick passage in Parliament. In the run up to 2014, Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Modi said “…After May 16, these Bangladeshis better be prepared with their bags packed,” in a promise that his government would deport them.

“My name is there in the NRC. But it is not about me alone. So many thousands of brothers and sisters are suffering because they cannot prove they are citizens,” Ranju Das, a businessman who had come to Modi’s rally explained why the Bill is needed. “Then there are people who have come from Bangladesh because of persecution. If the bill is passed it would also mean an end to this stigma that Bengal-origin Hindus are foreigners,” Das said.

For Bengal-origin Hindus including those who fled post-partition persecution in erstwhile East Pakistan it would be a huge relief since many have not been able to prove the veracity of their documents in the ongoing exercise of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Even as protests continue in Assam, Dilip Kumar Paul, BJP legislator from Silchar claimed that these fears were unfounded. “No Bangladeshi Hindu has come after December 2014, the cut-off date in the Bill,” he said.

Yet, around 18 kilometres away from Silchar, in Silcoorie camp village, migrant families, some of them who crossed the border just over a year ago, are hopeful of acquiring citizenship.

“I will try and apply once the Bill is passed,” said Dulal Das, who first came to Agartala in 1988 and then went to Bangladesh again in 1993. He again crossed the border in late 2017 and settled in Silcoorie camp with his wife.

“The government has been saying we will get citizenship. If it happens it would be good for us for I can open a bank account. I managed to get a sim card in black but I do not have other papers yet,” said Das.

Sanjit Das, his neighbour said because of NRC exercise, the migration slowed down but it continues.

Das lives in a tin shanty away from the main road and sells fish for a living. He came to Silchar in late 2014 from Kishoreganj after paying off a tout at the border in Tripura. “He took 4,000 Taka per person,” Sanjit Das said.

Sanjit Das said his wife Kalpana Das made it to the NRC draft since he was able to procure documents. “I paid Rs 2000 for the I-card (voters card) and Rs 350 for the PAN,” he said. But for Das and his children the Bill is a ray of hope.

“We came after reading about Modi and his views on Bangladeshi Hindus. We came because of this hope of citizenship,” said Sanjit Das.

“There is no freedom in Bangladesh for Hindus. There is no future for children,” said Shipra Rani Das, who came in 2016 as she pointed towards her 10-year-old son. “I want to become a cop when I grow up,” said Sumul Das, in crisp English, as he ran around in the shanty.

First Published: Jan 12, 2019 10:16 IST