Protests broke out across Assam over state Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s remark that if the Citizenship Bill is not passed “we will be surrendering to Jinnah’s policy”.
The minister on Sunday had also said people are commenting on the bill in a “reactionary way” and intellectuals are trying to build a “wrong narrative”, but clarified that he was not pointing to any community.
“I am meaning (Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah) Jinnah, I am not meaning any community,” Mr Sarma had said.
However, protesting organisations such as the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) alleged that Mr Sarma through his comments was trying to polarise the electorate ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and entered India before December 31, 2014.
“Without that bill, we are surrendering to the philosophy of Jinnah. If those people are not there, the Sarbhog seat will go to Jinnah. Do we want that? This is a fight between Jinnah’s legacy and India’s legacy,” Mr Sarma had told reporters while addressing a press conference on Sunday.
BJP state president Ranjit Dass represents the Sarbhog assembly seat.
“So, let the bill be passed and we will see if there is a provision of welcoming Bangladeshis in it. And, I am sure that is not there,” he said.
The minister said if we delete six lakh people from the voters list, the demography will change and “you will not retain Assam.”
“Today, if we do not have Citizenship Bill, 17 seats that elect Assamese people will go the Jinaah way…I am meaning Jinnah, I am not meaning any community,” Mr Sarma had said.
Protesters, led by organisations, observed ”Black Day” and carried black flags and burnt replicas of the bill across the state. In Delhi, a group staged a nude protest in front of the Parliament.
Another group staged a nude protest in Assam’s Tinsukia town as well against the minister’s remarks.
They also burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The Left Democratic Mancha, a common platform of Left and democratic parties, organised a protest meeting. They took out a procession to Kamrup Metropolitan Deputy Commissioner’s office here.
Several indigenous organisations in the state have been opposing the bill as they believe it would harm their cultural identity.
Mr Sarma had also said detection and deportation will be carried out, but “not at the cost of Jinnah” as the state cannot have a detection and deportation policy to have “Badruddin Ajmal (AUDF chief) as the chief minister”.
“So, if something led us to make Ajmal as chief minister, then we have to change that policy,” he had said.
“That is why all this exercise is going on. So, in my view, Citizenship Bill and Clause-6 (of Assam Accord) are complementary. The bill itself will strengthen us. If the bill is not there, we will lose Sarbhog and many other seats,” he said.
Meanwhile, the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the bill, was submitted in Parliament today after all amendments moved by the opposition in the panel were defeated on December 31 last year.
Asked if implementing the Bill will not contradict the Accord, Mr Sarma said, “Let the Accord be violated, but let us not go to Jinnah. You have to determine between a word of Assam Accord and Jinnah. Which way will you go? We are not apologetic. We trying to do something for the people of Assam and save the state from Jinnah.”
He also said the ongoing update exercise of the National Register of Citizens will detect a “lot of Jinnahs”.
Reacting sharply to this, AASU General Secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi told PTI, “These are baseless and communal statements. He is showing fear of Muslims to get Hindu votes, but people are not fools.”
Despite being a public representative, the minister does not know how to speak to the people, the AASU leader alleged.
KMSS adviser Akhil Gogoi said, “The makers of India and common people did not take side of Jinnah, but supported a secular country. Talking about Jinnah at this time is deliberately done to polarise the society before the polls. By doing so, he is trying to spread the communal agenda of RSS.”
A total of 70 groups led by KMSS will protest in front of different offices of Oil India Limited and ONGC, Mr Gogoi said.
In addition they would also stop oil, petroleum products, coal, forest products and limestone from being transported outside the state, he said.
“We all know that Himanta Biswa Sarma is a politician who changes party at the time of his crisis,” he added.
He is in BJP now and playing to the tune of RSS to save himself from Louis Berger and Sarada chit fund scams.
Addressing an election rally at Silchar on January 4, Prime Minister Modi announced that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will be passed as soon as possible in Parliament as a penance for past injustices.