Lok Sabha passes Citizenship Bill amid shutdown in Assam, parts of Northeast

Activists of the Left Democratic Manch alliance hold placards as they take part in a rally in protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in Guwahati. — AFP

Renowned singer, Zubeen Garg has severely criticized Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal for the Controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

In Assam's Golaghat and Dibrugarh districts, protesters attempted to vandalise BJP offices, leading to the arrest of 14 persons in Dibrugarh and four in Golaghat, police said.

Demonstrators in the state are angry about the bill not because it excludes Muslims but because it grants citizenship to settlers from elsewhere, accusing the migrants of taking away jobs from indigenous groups.

The Cabinet has approved Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) in the Lok Sabha on January 7.

In Tuesday's protests in Assam, the militant North East Students' Organization (NESO) vandalised offices of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and set banners and posters on fire.

Protests have erupted in recent months and on Monday in Assam, where a movement against illegal immigrants, of all religions, from Bangladesh has simmered for decades, with some residents blaming them for eating into their resources and job opportunities. "Assam alone would not have to bear the entire burden and Government of India is committed to give all help needed to the state government and people of Assam", Rajnath Singh said. The BJP has 61 MLAs and its other regional ally, the Bodoland People's Front, which has assured its continuous support, has 13.

The Conrad Sangma-led coalition government in Meghalaya too had opposed the Bill but desisted from calling off its ties with the BJP, which is a minor player with two MLAs.

This was an election promise of the BJP in 2014.

Large sections of people in Assam and other northeastern states have been protesting against the Bill, saying it will nullify the 1985 Assam Accord under which any foreign national, irrespective of religion, who had entered the state after March 24, 1971, should be deported.

"The home minister clearly told us they will try to get this bill passed tomorrow, so there's no question of us staying with the BJP anymore", AGP President Atul Bora told reporters in New Delhi. Assam's people will never allow this bill to be implemented.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga on Monday had alleged that the Bill was against the principle of secularism and if passed, would be "harmful" to states such as Mizoram where there are many illegal Buddhist migrants from Bangladesh.

Bora, along with Kesab Mahanta, the AGP working president, and Phani Bhusan Choudhury of the party are ministers in the BJP-led government in Assam. "There is a divisive nature to this bill and the draft committee has shot down all suggested amendments", Professor Sougata Roy, a member of parliament from Trinamool Congress, said during the protest.

The AGP had placed its reservations on the Bill before the Joint Parliamentary Committee when the panel had visited the state and also tried to mobilise opinion against the Bill among NDA constituents such as the JD (U) and Shiv Sena, and opposition parties.

A party meeting was held here on Friday on the issue and it was decided that if the bill is passed in Lok Sabha, "we will withdraw support to the government in the state", Mahanta said earlier in the day.

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