Protests over Citizenship Bill dim BJP’s Lok Sabha prospects in North East
The mounting opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the northeastern states may derail the BJP’s bid to win 21 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region
The mounting opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the northeastern states may derail the BJP's bid to win 21 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region.
While student bodies in Assam and other northeastern states have intensified their protests against the Bill and vowed to continue it till it was scrapped, the political parties who are constituents of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) have also decided to oppose the Bill.
They are concerned that the implementation of the Bill will threaten the identity of the indigenous communities.
The developments have come at a time when the country is barely two months away from the Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP, which had been gradually making its presence felt in the region after the party's victory in Assam in 2016, is eyeing at least 21 of the total 25 Lok Sabha seats in the eight northeastern states including 11 of the 14 seats in Assam alone.
The BJP has a strong presence in six of the eight northeastern states.
It is in power in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and is part of the ruling alliances in Meghalaya and Nagaland.
But the party has been facing stiff opposition from the beginning over the Bill. The opposition picked up momentum from January 8 when the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha.
In 2016, the saffron party dethroned the Congress, which had ruled Assam for 15 long years. Riding on a promise of change led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it won 61 of the total 126 Assembly seats and formed a government by joining hands with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland Peoples' Front (BPF).
Following the success in Assam, the BJP succeeded to put in place a government in Arunachal Pradesh by breaking the Congress. The euphoria continued as the BJP took power in Manipur and Tripura and became part of the ruling alliance in Nagaland and Meghalaya, stunning the Congress.
The BJP's prospects in the coming polls may, however, be marred by the growing opposition to the Bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to people of six minority communities including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Persis and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
While the AGP has already distanced itself from the BJP, other allies like the National Peoples' Party (NPP) in Meghalaya, National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) of Nagaland and Mizo National Front (MNF) have expressed their opposition to the Bill.
"The Bill has to go. We are not going to tolerate this at any cost," says Samujjal Bhattacharya, Chief Adviser of North East Students' Organization (NESO).
"The Assam Accord was a national commitment and it was mutually agreed that those who have come to Assam before March 24, 1971 will be considered as Indian citizens while those who came after the cut-off date will be detected as illegal foreigners and deported.
"A small state like Assam had already taken the burden of illegal migrants who have come till the cut off date but we cannot accept any more burden," Bhattacharya added.
"Now the Modi government is trying to pass the Bill so that illegal migrants who have come till December 31, 2014 get citizenship. This is not justified. In our country, citizenship is not granted on the basis of religion, which the Bill is trying to do," he said.
The people of all northeastern states have taken to the streets against the Bill, he said.
The NESO, a conglomeration of most student bodies of the region, including AASU, has called for a shutdown in the entire northeastern states.
Another pressure group in Assam, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), is also leading a conglomeration of 70 organisations against the Bill.
"The BJP, which came to power in Assam in 2016, had promised to protect the Jati, Mati and Bheti. But it is now set to grant citizenship to the illegal Hindu Bengalis living in Assam. We are not going to tolerate this," said KMSS leader Akhil Gogoi.