PM Modi said that citizenship for Hindus from neighbouring countries is an emotive issue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched the BJP's campaign for the upcoming national elections in the northeast on Friday, has made it clear that his government is going forward with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has been vehemently opposed in Assam.
At a rally in Silchar, PM Modi said that citizenship for Hindus from neighbouring countries is an emotive issue, but his government is protecting the interests of the indigenous communities of Assam by setting up a high-power committee for the implementation of the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord that safeguards the socio-political rights and culture of the "indigenous people of Assam".
Protests erupted across the state after his rally. The agitators burnt effigies of PM Modi in Lower Assam and Dibrugarh, even as Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal assured the people that he would protect the interests of the state.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant nationality to people belonging to minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of their residence in India.
Several indigenous organisations in the state have been opposing the bill as they believe it would harm their cultural identity.
"The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is linked with emotions and related to people's lives. It is not for the benefit of anyone but a penance against the injustice and many wrongs done in the past. I hope the bill is passed in the parliament soon," PM Modi said.
But his remarks drew sharp reactions from both allies as well as the opposition.
Former Chief Minister of Assam Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and leader of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a BJP ally, said, "Our party's stand is clear that if they go ahead with this bill and make it a law, we will part ways. Our alliance with BJP is a pre-poll alliance, so the BJP should have the morality to face the verdict of the people. Their decision on the bill will impact the prospects of the alliance."
The Congress alleged that his rallies are an excuse to skip the parliament where he will be asked tough questions.
"On Thursday, he had a rally in Punjab and a day later he was in Assam. All this is nothing but an excuse to run away from discussions on two of his major blunders — the President's rule in Jammu and Kashmir and the overpriced Rafale deal. He wants to avoid parliament," Gaurav Gogli, Congress MP from Assam, told NDTV.
The powerful All Assam Student Union (AASU) that spearheaded the anti-illegal migrant crusade is also up in arms against the BJP.
"They are violating the Assam accord by trying to bring the citizenship amendment bill. The high-level committee is a complete eyewash. During the 2014 election campaign, he said all Bangladeshis will have to go. He asked them to pack their bags. He is trying to protect the interest of Bangladeshis. It's a double standard," said AASU's adviser Samujjal Bhattacharjee.
Around 70 organisations, led by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), took out protest rallies in the state capital this morning. The KMSS members had plans to march to the Asom Gana Parishad headquarters to ask the party to break off its alliance with the BJP, but the police prevented them from doing so, its leader Akhil Gogoi Gogoi told reporters.
"The bill will put the identity of the indigenous people at stake. We cannot tolerate a leader coming from Delhi and threatening our very existence while the chief minister and other BJP leaders applaud him," Mr Gogoi said.
But Mr Sonowal urged all to maintain calm. "I am the chief minister of Assam and I have been entrusted with the duty of protecting the interest of the people of both Brahmaputra and Barak Valley. People should not doubt the government's intention," he told reporters.
(With inputs from PTI)