The Bill gives citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before December 1, 2014.
The demagoguery of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which has Assam on the boil, is as dangerous as what the state government has done to quell protests against it. The state’s finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sharma, has defended the Bill, saying that it is necessary to ensure that the demography of the north-eastern states doesn’t change. The Bill gives citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India before December 1, 2014. Given how the ethnic Assamese see this as a move that will dilute their ethnic, cultural and linguistic identity, Sharma’s argument seems ironic. The Asom Gana Parishad has exited the coalition with the ruling BJP in the state, and Ulfa, the extremist outfit, has threatened to walk out of peace talks; yet, the advocates of Hindutva demagoguery fail to see that the support for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from the ethnic Assamese population—though intensely xenophobic—wasn’t based on religion. So, the Citizenship Bill, aimed at legalising, primarily, the Hindu immigrants who would have fallen into the NRC net has found no takers in the state.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the ruling dispensation in the state seems to have entirely lost its grip on reality by slapping sedition charges against academic Hiren Gohain, activist Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta for their continued opposition to the Citizenship Bill. Apart from the abuse of the sedition law—an anti-democratic, colonial relic—by cracking down on independent voices articulating the demands of the Assamese people, the ruling party’s leadership, in the state as well as the Centre (whose silence over the matter can only mean tacit support) has demonstrated a despotic unwillingness to engage democratically with dissent. It is now a double jeopardy—while the attempt to consolidate votes through polarization may not pay off, Assam’s roil could just get worse, for longer.