Cracks in alliance as anti-bill lobby mounts pressure

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GUWAHATI, May 12: Amid continuing public outcry against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Brahmaputra valley, ideological differences over the bill that seeks to give citizenship to Hindu, Jain, Parsi, Christian and Buddhist citizens, who have fled from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan following religious persecution, have left the three-party BJP-led alliance government in the state divided in three camps.
In contrast, all the partners in the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance, including BJP, have stood united against the bill, which has fuelled people in Assam to demand chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to convene the cabinet meeting and take a similar decision.
BJP, which is the senior partner in the coalition government, on Friday said the government would take a stand after the completion of the updating process of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC, a constitutional document unique to Assam, is being updated from its 1951 version with the objective of listing names of Indian citizens living in the state and thereby filter out illegal immigrant settlers.
State industry minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said the government will not do anything against the interests of the people. BJP’s partner Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has opposed the proposed amendment while the third partner in the coalition, Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), said it would maintain a neutral stand and would not get involved in the controversy.
Sonowal has stayed away from any public appearance and making any statement on the bill since protests started from Monday when the Joint Parliamentary Committee visited the state for public hearing. Anti-bill protesters in Majuli river island, which is Sonowal’s constituency, on Friday put an effigy of the chief minister on a banana raft on Brahmaputra and “sent it to Bangladesh”.
The committee winded up its five-day hearing at Shillong on Friday. People of tribal-dominated Meghalaya unanimously submitted their opposition to the bill before the committee in the two-day hearing. Assam, however, returned a divided opinion.
Deputed by Sonowal to clarify the state’s stand, Patowary on Friday appealed to people not to panic saying, “There is no reason for panic. The state government will not take any decision that is inimical to the interests of people. We appeal to people to keep faith in the government.”
“The government will make its position known once the entire NRC exercise is over. Our alliance partners have given their stand and we have no problem because it shows that we are in a democracy and everybody has right to convey their opinion,” Patowary added. AGP has threatened to pull out of the alliance if the bill is passed by Parliament.
Patowary attacked Congress for its multiple stands on the bill. “On July 16, 2014, the Congress government had taken a cabinet decision to grant asylum/citizenship to the (non-Muslim) immigrants of Bangladesh who migrated to Assam in the face of religious persecution. Today while the state Congress is opposing the bill, its leaders in Barak Valley are supporting it.” (TNN)