Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and Vote Bank Politics in Assam
Monoj Kumar Nath
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Nowgong College, Nagaon, Assam
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which seeks to give citizenship to minority communities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan in India, has emerged as a dividing line in society and politics of Assam since it was proposed in the Parliament. In politics of Assam, it created a situation like BJP, which supports the bill, versus all. On the other hand, Brahmaputra and Barak valley of the state have sharply divided on the bill. The proposed amendment is for the whole country. However, it has emerged as a big controversy only in society and politics of Assam. It is because the immigration problem has remained very peculiar and critical in Assam because of unabated illegal immigration of both Hindus and Muslims to the state from East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. This unabated influx of immigrants has already brought about significant changes to the demographic equations of Assam in favour of recently immigrants and created a fear among the indigenous Assamese communities of losing political dominance and cultural identity. In this situation, the citizenship amendment bill has aggravated the fear of indigenous Assamese communities of being marginalized at their own home state at the hands of immigrants. Against this backdrop, this paper tries to understand why the proposed amendment has created so much controversy in Assam. It argues that, in Assam, through the proposed amendment, BJP it is trying to consolidate Hindu votes from both Brahmaputra and Barak valley behind it by creating a Muslim enemy theory.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016:
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which proposes to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, seeks to allow illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. The Bill proposes to allow illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan to not be imprisoned or deported. It also appeals for the minimum years of residency in India to apply for citizenship to be lessened from at least 11 to six years for such migrants.
The Bill, however, does not extend to illegal Muslim migrants. It also does not talk about other minority communities in the neighbouring countries, such as Jews, Bahais etc. A 30member Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed in August 2016 to look into all relevant matters related to the proposed amendment.
From the day the Citizenship (Amendment) bill, 2016 was proposed in Lok Sabha, it has remained an issue of contention in Assam. The student organizations like All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Axom Jatiatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), minority student organizations like All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), peasant organization like Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), organizations led by different ethnic groups have been strongly protesting against the proposed amendment. Even the political party like Congress, regional political parties like Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), and all leftist parties have opposed the amendment bill. In Brahmaputra valley of Assam, in respect to the bill, it has become a situation like BJP versus all. However, all non-political organizations led by Hindu Bengalis from Barak valley have overwhelmingly stood in favour of the bill. During the public hearing before the JPC in Assam from 7 to 9 May, 2018, overwhelming majority of organizations from Barak valley gave their opinion in favour of the bill, against all political and non-political organizations opposed the bill before JPC in Brahmaputra valley. Even the Congress and BJP leaders from Barak valley gave their representation before the JPC in favour of the bill against Congress party’s decision to oppose it and BJP’s decision not to give representation before JPC. The visit of JPC for public hearing in Assam, in practice, divided Brahmaputra and Barak valley in two different extremes, both politically and socially.
Geographically, Assam can be divided into two valleys – Brahmaputra and Barak, and hills (Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts) in between these two valley plains. At present situation, Brahmaputra valley and both the hill districts have stood against the proposed amendment. Only Barak valley is supporting the amendment. However, BJP party and governments both at the centre and in Assam have repeatedly showed its commitment to the proposed amendment. In electoral equations of Assam, Barak valley has only 15 Assembly constituencies of total 126, and two Lok Sabha constituencies of total 14 from Assam. In this situation, it is interesting to understand BJP’s politics vis-ŕ-vis the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Assam. BJP’s repeated argument in favour of the proposed amendment seems like a heavy political risk for the party in Assam where it forms its first ever government in 2016.
The present study is analytical. It tries to understand the politics of citizenship amendment bill, 2016 on the basis of existing literature and from observations of past and present happenings.
CONTROVERSY IN ASSAM:
The proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 is meant for the whole nation. However, this proposed amendment has not created much controversy outside Assam. This indicates a peculiar situation in Assam that has created so much controversy against the proposed amendment. Several issues and arguments have created strong resentment against the bill among the Assamese people from Brahmaputra valley. The Following are some of such issues and arguments
1. A Communal Bill:
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 proposes to give citizenship on the basis of religion. It is totally opposite to the secular ethos of the Indian constitution. It violates the Article 14 of the Indian constitution which provides for Equality before the Law and Equal Protection of the Laws. The communal intent of giving citizenship can easily affect the existing secular fabric of Assamese society, which has remained a symbol of communal unity and harmony for centuries.
2. Burden of Illegal Immigrants:
Assam alone has already borne the burden of the illegal immigrant from East Pakistan for two decades after independence. The cut off date for identification of illegal foreigners in Assam is 24th March, 1971, as fixed by Assam Accord. For other parts of India, this cut off date is the date of commencement of the constitution (January 26, 1950). As per the constitutional provisions, in case of persons migrated from Pakistan, no registration of the immigrant was necessary for Indian citizenship if he had migrated before 19th July, 1948. Assam movement (1979-1985) demanded 1951 as the cut off year for identification and deportation of foreigners from Assam illegally immigrated from the neighbouring countries. However, Assam Accord (1985), which was the result of Assam movement, fixed 24th March, 1971 as the cut off date for Assam to determine and deport the illegal foreigners from Assam. In the process, through the Assam Accord, central government made all foreigners illegally migrated to Assam from neighbouring countries till 24th March, 1971 legal citizens of India and compelled Assam to bear their burden. Only Assam borne the burden of illegally migrated to Assam till 24th March, 1971. During the partition of the country, a large number of people from Pakistan came to India through the border in Punjab but they were not settled only in Punjab. Such people were settled in different parts of the country1. But the same did not happen with Assam when the Assam Accord was signed. And now, central government, through the proposed amendment, wants to extend citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries who are still migrating.
3. Centre’s Negligence towards the Illegal Immigration Problem in Assam:
Because of geographical location, Assam has always been experiencing large scale illegal immigration from erstwhile East Pakistan, and then Bangladesh since the days of partition. This continuous illegal immigration, of both Hindus and Muslims, has already brought about significant changes to the demographic equation of the state against the indigenous Assamese. And, central government has never shown any sincerity to stop this illegal immigration from East Pakistan and then Bangladesh to Assam. For almost four decades after independence, central government even did not think of sealing Indo-Bangladesh border. The government, for the first time, committed to seal the Indo-Bangladesh border only in Assam Accord (1985). But it took seven years to start the fencing work of the border after the Assam Accord was signed. The border work was started in 19922. However, after 25 years of fencing work, a large part of the Indo-Bangladesh border has still remained porous. This should be noted that the fencing in Punjab (Indo-Pakistan border) started in 1988 and was completed in three years by 19913. This situation explains, how the central government has been showing total negligence towards sealing the Indo-Bangladesh border, and opposite to it, is keen to extend citizenship to those who have illegally migrated to Assam after 24th March, 1971 through this porous border. This has anguished the Assamese people, who have started to feel threatened of losing political dominance at the hands of recently immigrated people from Bangladesh.
4. Violation of Assam Accord:
The proposed amendment will make the Assam Accord invalid. This accord was the result of six years long Assam movement where 855 Assamese youths lost lives and thousands became handicapped. There is no doubt that Assam Accord was a compromise formula from the part of movement leaders as it fixed 24th March, 1971 as the cut off date (for identification and deportation of foreigners illegally staying in Assam) as wished by the central government against demanded for 1951 cut off year by the movement leaders. Still, this cut off date at least brought about a deadline for identification and deportation of illegal foreigners staying in Assam in the situation where illegal immigration was continuing from Bangladesh from Assam without any concern from the central government. The Accord created an environment for sealing Indo-Bangladesh border which could stop future illegal immigration from Bangladesh. And during last three decades Assam Accord has emerged as a consensus document for all communities and ethnic groups in Assam. However, the proposed amendment will directly go against the Assam Accord. First, it will make invalid the cut off date (24th March, 1971) fixed by the Assam Accord for identification and deportation of illegal foreigners from Assam and allow non-Muslims to gain citizenships who have been illegally migrating to the state after this cut off date. And second, it will divide the illegally immigrants on communal lines. Assam Accord did not identify and divide the immigrants to Assam on the basis of religion who entered Assam from neighbouring countries till 24th March, 1971.
5. Assam has been used as a Dumping Ground to settle Refugees:
The proposed amendment is a part of the policy of the consecutive central government to impose the burden of Hindu Bengalis on Assam. After independence Jawarharlal Nehru led central government accorded refugee status to those Hindus immigrated from East Pakistan to Assam. Gopinath Bordoloi, Assam Chief Minister, informed the central government that Assam did not have much land to settle the Hindu refugees. Then Nehru even threatened the Assam government that the state’s claim for financial help would suffer if it did not settle the Hindu refugees from East Pakistan4. Again, under the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, central government wanted to expel only the Muslim immigrants under the provision of ‘certain immigrants’ and provided citizenship to Hindu immigrants from East Pakistan. During Assam movement, the central government urged the movement leadership to treat the ‘displaced persons’ from East Pakistan/Bangladesh specially. By the ‘displaced persons’, government wanted to safeguard the Hindus immigrated from East Pakistan/Bangladesh. However, the leadership of the Assam movement declined to distinguish the illegal foreigners on the basis of religion. In a letter to Home Minister of India, Dtd. Nov. 13, 1980, B.K. Phukan, General Secretary of AASU clearly declined to consider the illegal migrants on the basis of any religion5. Finally all the Hindus and Muslims immigrated to Assam from East Pakistan were made legal citizens of India through Assam Accord. And, after three decades of the Assam Accord, now once again, the central government wants to make those non Muslims legal citizen of India who have been illegally immigrating to Assam from Bangladesh even after 24th March, 1971.
6. Fear of losing Language and Culture:
The fear of losing own language and culture at the hands of Hindu Bengalis has become the main cause of concern for the Assamese people against the proposed amendment. The British colonial administration introduced Bengali as the medium of education in Assam in 1836 and it remained so till 1871. Assamese people still consider it as a manipulation by the Bengali officers and clerks under British administration to make Bengali the language of Assam. After independence, the Congress led Assam government accepted the Assam Official Language Act, 1960 which made Assamese the state language of Assam. The Hindu Bengalis from entire Assam revolted against this decision of the Assam government and there was a mass movement in Barak valley demanding Bengali to be accorded also an official language of Assam. In 1972, Gauhati University decided to introduce Assamese as the medium of instruction in colleges under its jurisdiction from the academic year 1972-73 with some exceptions. Barak valley came under exceptions from the jurisdiction of this proposed medium of instruction scheme. However, demand was raised from Bengali speaking Barak valley that Bengali should also be introduced as one of the medium of instructions in entire Assam6. All these have created an impression among the Assamese people that Bengali speaking Hindus of Assam have always stood against Assamese language. It should be noted here that the immigrant Muslims living in Brahmaputra valley, who were originally Bengali speaker, supported the cause of Assamese language in both Official Language movement, 1960 and Medium of Instruction movement, 1972. In this situation, the proposed amendment has created a fear among the Assamese of losing their language at the hands of Bengalis. There is no government estimate how many Hindu Bangladeshis would get citizenship in India when the proposed bill will become an act. However, different organizations led by Assamese people have given different estimates which got wide publicity in Assamese media. According to KMSS, more than one crore Hindu Bangladeshis will come into India and get Indian citizenship under the provisions of the proposed amendment7 Such figures have brought about a fear to the Assamese people that Assamese language will lose its status of dominant language in Assam when the proposed amendment will become an act. As per the census report of 2001, in Assam, 48.8 per cent people speak Assamese while Bengali speakers are 27.5 per cent. During 1991 and 2001, while Assamese speakers decreased by 11 per cent, Bengali speakers increased by six per cent in Assam. In this situation, the proposed bill is emerging as a threat for the Assamese people which could make them linguistically subordinate to Bengalis.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF THE BILL:
The opposing groups have labeled the proposed amendment as jatidhongshi (destroyer of Assamese nationality). However, the Hindu Bengalis from Barak valley are supporting the bill. The main argument for the support of the bill is the burden of partition of India on communal lines. The supporters claim, without any proof, that Hindus have been living in Bangladesh under unbearable suffering because of religious persecution from the Muslims. In that situation, those Hindu Bangladeshis do not have other places to go except India. So, according to them, those Hindu Bangladeshis who have already migrated and those who want to migrate to India should be given citizenship here.
The arguments in favour of the proposed amendment clearly ignore the secular foundation of Indian constitution. The supporters of the Bill even cites the example of Israel’s policy of Law of Return adopted in 1950 which gives Jews all over the world the right to come and live in Israel and to gain Israeli citizenship. But they ignore that while independent Israel came to exist as a home for Jews, India did not earned independence as a home for Hindus. Again, while only Jews from all over the world can go to Israel and can get citizenship, the proposed amendment has made provisions for several religious groups. Moreover, the proposed amendment has not made provision of getting citizenship for these religious groups from all over the world. And, burden of partition cannot be borne for indefinite time. In this regard the opinion of the former Assam Governor Lt. Gen (Retd) S.K.Sinha can be cited. In his ‘Report on the Illegal Migration into Assam’ (known as Sinha Report) submitted to the President of India on November 8, 1998, he remarked:
No doubt, Hindus required special consideration at the time of Partition and had to be treated as refugees, but this cannot be allowed to continue for ever. Post – 1971 Hindu illegal migrants cannot justifiably claim refugee status.’ (Chapter II).
Moreover, India is not a signatory of the United Nations Refugee Convention; therefore it is not required to provide safe heaven to people seeking asylum from persecution in other countries8.
Despite all these, the Hindu Bengalis from Barak valley have strongly demanded that the proposed amendment should be passed immediately. This strong demand is the consequence of the vote bank politics of BJP. The party has always promised in Barak valley to give citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis. Barak valley is Hindu Bengali dominated and a significant portion of them are East Bengal origin. During last seven decades after independence, immigration of Hindu Bangladeshis to Assam in general, and to Barak valley in particular has remained a continuous affair. There is a strong sentiment among the Hindu Bengalis in Assam for their religious and linguistic counterpart living in Bangladesh. To woo this sentiment, BJP has always promised for citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis in Barak valley. During the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaigning in Brahmaputra valley, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi promised to solve the illegal immigration problem in Assam. But in Barak valley he promised to give citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis. Again, during 2016 Assam Assembly election, in its ‘Assam Vision Document 2016-2025’, BJP promised to implement Assam Accord in letter and spirit (p.10). During election campaigning, in Brahmaputra valley, BJP leaders promised to safeguard the land, shelter and nationality of indigenous Assamese. But in Barak valley, the party promised to give citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis. BJP formed the government at the centre after 2014 Lok Sabha election with overwhelming majority. It has formed first ever government in Assam after 2016 Assembly election. Now Hindu Bengalis want that BJP should fulfill its promise to give citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis. They believe that BJP cannot have a more favourable time than now to fulfill this promise. Barak valley’s demand for immediate passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill at the parliament has also come from the fear of ongoing NRC upgradation in Assam. The final draft of NRC upgradation in Assam, under the supervision of Supreme Court, was published on June 30, 2018. The upgradation of NRC, 1951 in Assam has used March 24, 1971 as the cutoff date fixed by the Assam Accord. A good number of Hindu Bengalis from entire Assam in general and from Barak valley in particular, who have migrated to Assam from Bangladesh after 24th March, 1971, remained excluded from NRC. These Hindu Bengalis excluded from NRC can easily become the legal citizen of India immediately after the proposed amendment becomes an act.
VOTE BANK POLITICS:
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, if made into an act, can face judicial scrutiny. The communal intention of awarding citizenship goes against the secularism enshrined under the Constitution of India. The proposed amendment, moreover, collides with the Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 which made special provisions to citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord. Again, as has already been mentioned, it violates Article 14 of the Constitution guaranteeing equality before the law and equal protection of the laws.
This heavily biased bill, however, does not actually give citizenship to anybody. It only proposes to enable the post 1971 stream of non-Muslim migrants to apply for Indian citizenship via the route of naturalization, and they are proposed to decriminalized by lifting the prefix ‘illegal’ before ‘migrants’. The bill, even if enacted, shall remain just an enabling piece of legislation. Future governments may very well take shelter under Article 14 of Constitution to refuse what the present government is seemingly granting – the much coveted citizenship9.
Even knowing all these, BJP has been strongly arguing for the Bill. It is because the bill is a larger plan of the party to consolidate Hindu Bengali votes behind it. In eastern India, the target group of the bill is Hindus who have migrated from East Pakistan, and then Bangladesh; although the bill talks about several religious groups except Muslims. And through the bill, BJP is strategically trying to create and consolidate its Hindu Bengali vote banks in Tripura, West Bengal and Assam. A significant portion of Hindu Bengalis in all these three states are East Pakistan, and then Bangladesh origin. In Assam only, the cut off date for identification of illegal foreigners is 24th March, 1971. In Tripura and West Bengal, this cut off date is the date of implementation of the Constitution of India. In this situation, this bill will give opportunity to those Hindu Bengalis in these three states to apply for citizenship who have immigrated to West Bengal and Tripura after 26th January, 1950 and to Assam after 24th March, 1971.
The CPI (M), which was in power in Tripura till the last Assembly election in the state, and the Trinamool Congress, which is ruling West Bengal, strongly oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 because of its communal intentions. In that situation, BJP has been trying to label the CPI (M) in Tripura and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal as against the Hindus. This politics has already helped BJP substantially to come to the power in Tripura. In Tripura Assembly election 2018, BJP used the proposed citizenship amendment as a weapon against the left parties, which opposed the proposed amendment, to consolidate Hindu Bengali votes behind it. In West Bengal, to create a Hindu alliance behind it against Trinamool Congress, BJP is trying to prove Trinamool Congress a sympathiser of Muslims. The proposed bill excludes Muslim immigrants and BJP has been trying to gain from this by labeling the critics of the bill as sympathizer of Muslims. BJP in recent times has been trying to communalise the politics of West Bengal by labeling the Muslims of the state as the threat to the Hindus. After its win in Assam, BJP and Hindu religious organisations have been trying to gain electorally by communally dividing the people of West Bengal. Newspaper reports show how Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has been trying to communally divide the politics of West Bengal. In the first week of July 2017, a communal violence occurred in Baduria block in Basirhat sub-division of North- 24 Pargana district of West Bengal as a consequence of a Class XII Hindu student posted derogatory religious imagery of Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page. The incident that would have been settled quickly at the local police station level became a communal playground for BJP and the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Regarding the incident, international joint secretary of VHP commented:
Atrocities are being committed against Hindus. We will not allow West Bengal to become waste Bengal…We have been able to tackle Assam, our Hindu unity is intact in Jammu. Now our focus is West Bengal. Hindus of Bengal need to be united. We will do whatever necessary to protect Hindus who are under threat in the state (The Indian Express, Kolkata, July 6, 2017, p. 6).
Assam’s situation is different from the Tripura and West Bengal vis-ŕ-vis the Hindu Bengalis. The Hindu Bengalis are a minority group in the state. The community is majority in only one district (Cachar from Barak valley), of total 27 districts from the state (2011 Census). Electorally too, the community is not decisive in entire electoral equation of the state. According to newspaper reports, Bengali Hindus constitute 50 per cent and above of total voters in 12 constituencies, between 35 to 49 per cent in 12 constituencies and between 20 to 34 per cent in 18 constituencies (Asomiya Pratidin, Guwahati, September 14, 2015) At this backdrop, BJP’s strong advocacy in favour of the proposed amendment, against strong opposition of the Assamese people from Brahmaputra valley, can affect its electoral prospects for the future in Assam. This situation hints that the party has some other political equations in this whole affair.
As per 2011 population census, Assam has 34.22 per cent of Muslim population of total population, and the Muslim population is growing fast. BJP could show unprecedented success in Assam both in 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 Assam Assembly elections mainly because of alliance of Hindus from both Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley behind the party. The origin and continuous success of Muslim based AIUDF in 2006 and 2011 Assam Assembly elections significantly contributed to the formation of this alliance behind BJP. Now, BJP wants to keep intact this Hindu alliance in Assam in favour of it that was formed before 2014 Lok Sabha election and continued till 2016 Assam Assembly election. However, BJP realizes that Congress in Assam has remained a platform of all religious groups and ethnic communities and to defeat Congress in the state without the support of huge Muslim population will be a big challenge in the future. To overcome this challenge, it will have to maintain the Hindu alliance that was formed behind it in Assam during 2014 Lok Sabha election. But BJP realizes that to maintain this Hindu alliance between Brahmaputra and Barak valley for a long time, it must not show itself as a party of indigenous Assamese. AGP, during last three decades of its existence, could not win a single Hindu Bengali dominated seat from Barak valley because of its Assamese outlook. Barak valley Bengalis have always opposed the Assamese domination in politics of Assam.
There is a common sense among a section of Assamese people that, if BJP party and its central government is so committed to giving citizenship to religious minority groups of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Assam should not be compelled to bear the burden of such immigrants because of its peculiar illegal immigration problem. Assam should be excluded from the jurisdiction of the proposed amendment as Assam has already borne the burden of illegal immigration for two decades after independence, unlike other states of India. The Congress led Central government in 1983 formulated Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) [IM(DT)] Act, an anti-immigration law, and imposed on Assam on the argument that Assam faced a peculiar immigration problem. Assam followed IM(DT) Act since 1983 till it was repealed by the Supreme Court of India in 2005 declaring it illegal and undemocratic, while rest of the country followed Foreigners Act 1946 during this period. If because of peculiar illegal immigration problem, central government can impose a separate immigration law on Assam, there is no reason why it cannot exclude Assam from the jurisdiction of an amendment to the existing Citizenship act on the same reason, i.e., peculiar immigration problem. But BJP is not willing to do so for its electoral calculations.
Hindu Bengalis in Assam have, by now, become a reliable vote bank for the BJP. In fact, BJP’s journey in Assam started from the Barak valley. BJP could influence the Brahmaputra valley much later than the Barak valley. BJP, for the first time in Assam, bagged nine seats of total 15 seats from Barak valley in 1991 election. In this election, it won only one seat (Dhubri), from the lower Assam of Brahmaputra valley which is a constituency dominated by immigrant communities, both Muslims and Hindus. At that point of time, BJP earned much popularity in Barak valley because of its Ram Mandir politics. Historically, Barak valley district of Cachar was a sufferer of communal division of India at independence. The Sylhet referendum, held during 6 and 7 July 1947 in Sylhet to decide whether that district should remain a part of the province of Assam in India or go to Pakistan, mandated Sylhet’s inclusion in Pakistan. As a result Sylhet district was awarded to Pakistan except three thanas of Patharkandi, Ratabari and Badarpur, and about one half of the thana of Karimganj10. This communal division has left a legacy of distrust between the Hindus and Muslims in Barak valley. Because of this communal politics easily gets ground in Barak valley. While BJP got ground in Barak valley in early 1990s because of its Mandir politics, AIUDF, a Muslim based political party formed in 2005, easily got ground among the Muslims of the valley in 2006 Assam Assembly election. In 2006 Assam Assembly election, within one year of formation, AIUDF won from three constituencies of the valley of total 10 constituencies the party won in the election.
Since 1991 Assembly election, BJP has remained a formidable force in Barak valley in consecutive assembly elections. In 1996 Assam Assembly election, BJP won four seats and all were from Barak valley. BJP started to gain ground in indigenous Assamese dominated constituencies only from 2001 Assembly election. In the 2016 Assam Assembly election only, BJP could influence the entire Brahmaputra valley. In this situation, BJP cannot dissatisfy the Hindu Bengalis, the party’s original support base in Assam, by excluding Assam from the jurisdiction of the proposed amendment.
BJP wants to make the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) bill an act, at least for the time being, even if the act face judicial scrutiny later. It is for its electoral gain in coming Lok Sabha election particularly in Hindu Bengali dominated states. However, it is facing a peculiar situation in Assam vis a vis the proposed amendment. If it passes the bill in current form, the party will face heavy erosion of support base in Brahmaputra valley. On the other hand, if Assam is excluded from the jurisdiction of the bill, Barak valley Hindus would go away from it. In this situation, BJP in Assam has been aggressively trying to create a Muslim enemy theory through which the Assamese - Hindu Bengali division in respect of the proposed amendment can be marginalized, and the Hindu alliance between the Barak and Brahmaputra valley can be kept intact.
Assam BJP’s strategist and a minister of Assam cabinet, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarmah, has argued that Assamese people should support the move of the central government for settling Hindu Bengalis from Bangladesh in Assam so that Asomiya Jati (Assamese nationality) can be saved from the growth of Muslims (Asomiya Pratidin, Guwahati, Nov. 15, 2016, p.4). The same minister in a conference on the Assam Accord on December 16, 2016 commented that for constitutional safeguard under the accord we must be sure ‘who we are’ as we are already sure ‘who are they’ (Amar Asom, Guwahati, December 17, 2016, p. 1). In this ‘we’ and ‘they’ binary, the minister clearly identified the Muslim immigrated from Bangladesh to Assam during 1951-1971 as ‘they’. His appeal to be sure about ‘we’ indicates an alliance between the Hindus of Brahmaputra and Barak valley. Again, arguing for this proposed amendment, he asked the people of Assam to choose their enemy – ‘the 1-1.5 lakh people or the 55 lakh people ?’ While the minister did not elaborate these figures, he seemed to be referring to Hindu and Muslim migrants in Assam. He surely referred to Muslim immigrants by 55 lakh as he added that if Assamese community continued to remain this way, six more districts would go out in the 2021 census and more would go out in 203111. It can be noted here that more and more districts became Muslim dominated in Assam in consecutive censuses from 1991 to 2011. In 50 years during 1961-2011, Muslim population in Assam grew by 9.52 per cent. In 1991, total four districts of Assam were Muslim dominated. In Assam, Muslim dominated districts grew to six in 2001 census and to nine in 2011 census. In a single decade 2001-2011, Muslim population in Assam grew by 3.3 per cent. After 2011 census, Muslims constitute more than one third of total population of Assam (34.22 per cent). This high growth of population of Muslims in Assam is now being used by the BJP to prove the community as the potential enemy of the Assamese people. The ethnic Assamese organizations have not subscribed this enemy theory of BJP. However, this enemy theory of BJP is gaining ground slowly in politics and society of Assam as entire immigrant Muslim community has already emerged as a threat to political existence of the indigenous Assamese people for their fast increasing population. There were reports that election after election, more constituencies are becoming Muslim dominated because of high growth of population among entire immigrant Muslim community in Assam 12. It is worth mentioning here that during 2016 Assam Assembly election BJP campaigned that Muslims dominate at least 35 constituencies in Assam. To make the whole issue of immigration more complex in this juncture, Assam BJP leaders have started to advocate for 1951 cut of year for identification and deportation of illegal foreigners in Assam, by ignoring the cut off date fixed by the Assam Accord. By creating the controversy of 1951 cut off year, BJP wants to create a panic among the Muslims who became Indian citizens by virtue of the Assam Accord.
BJP wishes to use the proposed citizenship amendment only as a weapon to win elections in Hindu Bengali dominated states. The party has got immense benefit from the politics of this amendment in recently concluded Tripura Assembly election. It expects that the proposed amendment will help the party significantly in upcoming West Bengal election too. In Assam, through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 BJP wants to show its commitments towards the Hindu Bengalis of the state. Even the JPC for the proposed amendment, led by a BJP MP, showed its special interest towards the Hindu Bengali dominated Barak valley when it visited Assam during May 7 to 9, 2018 for public hearing. It organized hearing in Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. Besides Guwahati, it organized hearing in Silchar, the main town from Barak valley. Except Silchar, JPC did not organize public hearings at other towns from upper and lower Assam of Brahmaputra valley and Hill districts. It indicates that JPC itself divided Assam into Assamese dominated Brahmaputra valley and Bengali dominated Barak valley when it organized public hearings in Assam. The JPC created more controversy and showed discrimination against Brahmaputra valley while it organized two days hearing for three districts of Barak valley in Silchar and only one day hearing in Guwahati for 29 districts from Brahmaputra valley and Assam hills.
The proposed amendment is biased and communal. It surely will face judicial scrutiny if the proposed amendment becomes an act. Knowing all these, BJP is strongly arguing in favour of the bill only for electoral gains. So, it can be argued that BJP is using the proposed amendment for its electoral gain than to help those religious communities mentioned in the bill whose interests the proposed bill wants to protect.
In BJP’s vote bank politics through the proposed amendment, Assamese society will be severely affected. If the proposed amendment becomes an act, Assamese nationality, based on Assamese language, will face a big setback. On the other hand, BJP is ready with the theory of Muslim enemy in Assam for controlling any damage to be caused by the proposed amendment when it becomes act. If BJP’s Muslim enemy theory becomes successful, Assam will be communally polarized and will surely experience internal disturbances and communal conflicts. And, if the proposed amendment does not become an act, then too, Assam will heavily suffer in the days to come for the psychological division it has already created between the Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley as well as between the Assamese and Hindu Bengalis. BJP’s proposed citizenship amendment politics has already divided Assam into valleys, languages and religions.
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Received on 09.11.2018 Modified on 29.11.2018
Accepted on 05.12.2018 ©AandV Publications All right reserved