Protests intensify against citizenship bill in northeast; parties rush to Delhi to stall amendment
Protests against the citizenship bill continued in the northeast states even as regional political parties rushed to New Delhi to make a last ditch effort to stall the proposed amendment, which is likely to be tabled in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
In Manipur, mobile internet services have been suspended and curfew imposed in the twin districts of Imphal (East) and Imphal (West), according to police officials manning the control rooms.
Manipur People against Citizenship Amendment Bill announced February 12 as D Day while People Alliance Manipur announced a 36-hour shutdown starting Monday. In Mizoram, civil society groups said they will intensify the protests and observe February 12 as black day.
Normal life in Manipur and Nagaland was disrupted as organisations had announced a complete shutdown on Monday in protest against the citizenship bill.
In a meeting on January 29, ten regional outfits including allies of the BJP, the National Peoples’ Party (NPP), in Meghalaya, the Mizo National Front (MNF) in Mizoram, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) among others had passed a resolution opposing the bill. The grouping had support from the Janata Dal(United) and Shiv Sena.
On Monday, political parties from the region reached out to other outfits in New Delhi.
“We came here yesterday to meet different political parties and leaders of the government to appeal to not go ahead with the bill. Different political parties, the AGP and regional outfits, are here again. Let us hope that somehow we can ensure that the bill does not go through,” Meghalaya’s chief minister Conrad Sangma said, adding that the National People’s Party (NPP) will not budge from opposing the bill.
The chief minister of Manipur N Biren Singh, who has earlier spoken against the amendment, met Union home minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi.
“We are communicating with the political outfits we had been in touch earlier. The coming days are important to us. The political parties have assured us of support,” said Atul Bora, the president of the Asom Gana Parishad.
While the AGP withdrew from the alliance with the BJP, the NPP said it will pull out if the bill is pushed. In Meghalaya, the United Democratic Party, another alliance partner in the state government, said it is waiting for the NPP to decide on ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“We are waiting for the NPP to take a call on its ties with the NDA. We have decided that we have nothing to do with NEDA, that is how serious we are about the interests of the people,” UDP’s general secretary Allantry F Dkhar said.
Along with the parties, students’ organisations from the region, too, have reached out to Rajya Sabha MPs.
“We have met Samajwadi Party MP Javed Ali Khan and Bodo People’s Front’s Biswajit Daimary,” Samuel Jyrwa, who heads the North East Students Organisation, an umbrella outfit of student bodies, said. “Khan assured us of support from the SP while Daimary said he will vote in favour of the interests of the people of the northeast,” said Jyrwa.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his rally in Changsari in Assam on February 9 had assured that the NDA government will not let any harm come to the northeast because of the bill. However, groups in Assam claim it violates the Assam Accord while other organisations say it will encourage the inflow of illegal migrants.
The proposed amendment which was passed by the Lok Sabha in January would relax citizenship eligibility criteria for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Christians and Buddhists who have come from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In Manipur, normal life came to a standstill as People’s Alliance Manipur, a grouping of over 130 organisations called for a 36-hour shutdown starting 5am on Monday. Protests also continued at Ima Keithel or Mother’s Market where six women were injured on Sunday as police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters. The agitators, all women, have been spending the night in the market as a mark of the protest against the bill.
“The state government claims the bill will not affect Manipur. We don’t know what stand they have. It is likely they are supporting this bill,” said Bhushan Longjam, general secretary of the Socialist Students Union of Manipur.
In Nagaland, life came to a standstill as civil society groups announced a ten-hour shutdown against the delay in solution to the Naga issue and the citizenship bill.
“Our demand is very simple that there should be an early solution to the Naga issue. They have decided to impose the CAB even as the Naga issue is still pending. With this shutdown we want to show our resentment to the Government of India,” said Shikuto Zalipu, the general secretary of Nagaland Gaon Bura Federation.
Nagaland’s director general of police TJ Longkumer said the shutdown in the state was peaceful.
“No untoward incident was reported from the state but it was a spontaneous shutdown and everything was closed,” he said.
Lalnunmawia Pautu, the general secretary of the influential Mizoram students organisation Mizo Zirlai Pawl, said if the bill is passed there will be an influx of illegal Chakma migrants from Bangladesh.
“We, together with NGOs in the state are again going to have another round of statewide protest tomorrow,” Pautu said.
He said special prayers were held on Sunday against the bill.