Congress in Assam demands referendum on Citizenship Bill

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GUWAHATI, May 9: Opposition Congress in Assam on Wednesday demanded a referendum on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which has triggered an outrage in the state.
The demand was raised by three-time former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. The Congress slammed the Narendra Modi government for allegedly sowing seeds of hatred in the state with its move to pass the Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to the non-Muslim immigrants of Bangladesh besides Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“In a democracy, it is obvious that there will be differences of opinions. So, let there be a referendum on the Bill,” Gogoi told reporters in Guwahati.
His comments come as various groups and organisations in the state’s Brahmaputra and Barak valleys expressed contrasting views before a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which conducted hearings on the Bill for three days. The organisations in Assamese-majority Brahmaputra Valley spoke against the Bill but most of those in Bengali-majority Barak valley endorsed it.
Gogoi pilloried the BJP for going back on its poll promises. “Did they not commit to protect “jati” (indigenous communities), “mati” (land) and “bheti” (foundation)? Why is Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal silent on the Bill? By introducing it, the Centre is trying to set Assam on fire,” an angry Gogoi said.
Assam Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ripun Bora, who is also an MP, slammed the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for not pulling out of the BJP-led three-party coalition government.
“The AGP is fooling people by saying that it will withdraw its support to the government if the Bill is passed. There is widespread anger and fear over the Bill. This is a time to save Assam and the Assamese community and the AGP is waiting for the Bill to be passed to withdraw support. They are the signatories of the Assam Accord. It is their greed for power which is holding them back. They can sacrifice everything for power,” Bora said.
The AGP was born out of the historic six-year-long anti-foreigners’ agitation of early 1980s which led to the signing of Assam Accord by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the then Rajiv Gandhi government. As per the Accord, the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, will be detected and deported. Most AASU leaders of that era, including former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, are now with the AGP.
The Congress, meanwhile, will launch a signature campaign from May 14 to mobilise public support against the Bill. The AGP will launch another from May 12.
Peasants’ body Krishak Mukti Sangram Samitee (KMSS), which is playing the lead role in drumming up support against the Bill, urged the BJP-RSS not to instigate communal violence in Assam.
“If the Meghalaya Cabinet can take a decision opposing the Citizenship Bill, why not the Assam government?” asked KMSS leader and RTI activist Akhil Gogoi.
Meanwhile, the JPC will leave for Meghalaya on Thursday to conduct the hearings. (Courtesy: NIE)