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India: Politics in the time of anti-CAA row

Dhemaji; image provided by the author

by Nava Thakuria 12 January 2020

Defying the relentless protests by a number of organizations
in the Brahmaputra valley of Assam, the Union government in New Delhi has
lately imposed the citizenship amendment act 2019 (CAA) by bringing the gazette
notification and it was another reason to make the people in northeast India
angry and baffled with the development.

Most of the localities in the region were passing through an
uproarious situation as the citizenship amendment bill 2019 (CAB) was passed in
the Parliament and subsequently endorsed by the President of India. A series of
protest-demonstrations were observed with the participation of locals including
student leaders, singers, academicians, writers, journalists, etc with the sole
demand to repeal the CAA.

The CAB, which argued for Indian citizenship to religious
persecuted asylum seekers including Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi,
Jain families in Muslim dominated Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh (who
came prior to 31 December 2014), was easily passed in Lok Sabha (on 9

December) where the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) enjoys the majority. It was later passed in
Rajya Sabha (11 Dec) with significant vote differences and subsequently
endorsed by President Ramnath Kovind.

Putting voices for the specific bill that aimed to amend the
Citizenship Act 1955, Union home minister Amit Shah quoted Mahatma Gandhi as
saying on 26 September 1947 that Hindu and Sikh people living in Pakistan can
fearlessly come to India as it would be the duty of India to give them shelter
and jobs. During the RS debates, Shah also pointed out that the Liaquat-Nehru
pact on 8 April 1950 agreed that both Pakistan and India would treat respective
minorities with dignity.

On the debate, why Muslims have been kept aside in the
process, Shah categorically sated that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh
follow their constitutions where it is defined that those are Islamic nations
and no Muslim can be religious minority there. He however clarified that India
has provisions for Muslim victims of persecution and they are being given
citizenship on case to case basis. At the same pace, he assured that Indian
Muslims need not to worry as the CAB (CAA) would not affect them.

On the northeastern region, where anti-CAB protests gained
momentum, Shah declared that the amended CAB had exempted all States under the
inner line permit (ILP) arrangement and localities declared under the sixth
schedule to the Constitution. With the amendments northeastern States namely
Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and lately Manipur were given immunities,
whereas major areas of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura were also kept outside the

Nonetheless, if not the Barak valley, other localities of
Assam witnessed a series of protests against the CAA. Assamese protesters have
come to the streets raising voices against the CAA as they apprehend that it
would destroy their language and culture. They would not digest the arguments
for making the CAA secular (read inclusion of Muslim asylum seekers) and they
are determined that no illegal migrant (irrespective of his/her religions)
should be settled in Assam after

25 March 1971 (mentioned in Assam Accord).

Continuous protest-demonstrations by All Assam Students’
Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parisahd (AJYCP), a section of
Assamese performing artistes along with their associates had also  hinted to form a political party eying the
forthcoming  State Assembly elections in
2021. Even though the agitators were waiting for the Supreme Court’s
directive  as another hearing (on CAA)
was scheduled on 22 January, they have unofficially declared that a new
regional party was emerging to counter the saffron party in Assam.

AASU leaders namely Samujjal Bhattacharya, Dipanka Nath and
Lurinjyoti Gogoi along with popular Assamese singer Zubeen Garg and his
thousands of fans expressed confident that the electorate would this time
reject the saffron party. They were morally supported by many Assamese academicians,
lawyers, writers, media personalities etc in their mission. But various active
anti-CAA civil society groups including Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (whose top
leader Akhil Gogoi is behind the bars for NIA charges) are yet to make up their

However, the proposed regional political party had drawn the
attention of the opposition Congress and All India United Democratic Front
(AIUDF). Veteran Congress leader and former State chief minister Tarun Gogoi
welcomed the initiative and he publicly announced that they would think of
going for an alliance with the new party. Later AIUDF supremo Badrauddin Ajmal
also extended supports to the party so that the saffron party could be
challenged in the coming State and general elections.

Facing the heat of disapproval and rejections across the
Brahmaputra valley, the saffron leaders swiftly came to action with an aim to
mobilize the people in their favour. BJP’s State unit in association with their
political allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF)
started organizing spectacular peace rallies (read pro-CAA gathering) in
different localities. Started at Nalbari in western Assam, the ruling parties
continue their rallies at Sarbhog (Barpeta), Jagiroad, Sualkuchi, Biswanath,
etc with massive supports from their well-wishers.

The ruling party also organized a booth-level conclave in
Guwahati, where the national working president JP Nadda, general secretary Ram
Madhav, State chief minister Sarbanand Sonowal, State BJP president Ranjeet Kr
Dass, State minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, etc were present to clarify that the
CAA would not be harmful for the people of Assam and northeast India. They also
alleged that the Congress leaders were trying to manipulate the anti-CAA stir
for their political gains.

Addressing a strong over 75000 saffron supporters, Nadda
reassured that the Centre is committed for safeguarding the language &
indigenous cultures of northeastern residents besides developing the region.
Criticizing the Congress leaders for spreading misinformation about the CAA
across the country, Nadda appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union
home minister Shah for showing the political will to take initiative for the
persecuted asylum seekers.

Sonowal criticized both the Congress and Left parties for
spreading misinformation that over one crore 
Bangladeshi Hindu nationals would be settled in Assam with the CAA
arrangements.  He targeted Congress
leader Rahul Gandhi asking him to answer ‘how many Bangladeshi nationals were
allowed to enter and stay in Assam during the Congress rule for the sack of
vote-bank politics. Sonowal alleged that the Congress had never shown due
respect to the indigenous people of Assam.

North-East Democratic Alliance convener Sarma asserted that
the number of CAA beneficiaries in Assam would never cross five lakh.
Lambasting the anti-national elements, Sarma declared that he would leave the
politics if the number (CAA beneficiaries) goes above five lakh in the State.
Rejecting any possibility of success with a new political party in the State,
he claimed that the saffron party would get not less than 100 seats in the
126-member State Assembly polls scheduled for early next year.

Commenting on anti-CAA protests, he stated that the
government has no problem with peaceful & democratic movements, but the
vandalism and violence would not be tolerated under any circumstances. Sarma
also commented that the ongoing anti-CAA pretests have lost its credibility as
the agitators now start talking about the party-politics. He however asserted
that the BJP remains ready to face any electoral political challenges in

The author is a northeast India based political analyst

Source: South Asia Journal
Click to read article at Source India: Politics in the time of anti-CAA row

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