Defending the controversial citizenship bill, Assam’s Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma Friday said its implementation is a must for the state to ensure it does not face a Kashmir-like situation in the future.
He claimed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill can be an “opportunity” for not just Assam but the entire Northeastern part of the country.
Assam and other Northeastern states have been witnessing strong protests over the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s attempt to pass the citizenship bill in Parliament.
The bill seeks to grant citizenship to people from minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India even if they don’t possess any proper document.
The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8 but the Rajya Sabha did not take it up in the just-concluded winter session.
“People of Assam need to understand that this is not an Assam specific bill and the burden of these refugees will be shared by the entire country. In fact, it will protect 17 important assembly seats of Assam from going to the All India United Democratic Front led by Badruddin Ajmal. We need to win the fight of civilisation as we cannot surrender Assam like we surrendered Kashmir,” Mr Sarma, who is also the convener of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance, said.
Accusing the Congress of misleading the people of Assam over the bill, he said nearly 20 lakh of the 40 lakh people left out during the process of National Register of Citizens update were Hindus.
Addressing the monthly Vimarsha talk show programme at the Vivekananda International Foundation, he claimed several Muslim refugees could manage to include their names in the NRC by manufacturing legacy documents due to their common names with Indian Muslims.
However, similar opportunities were not available with Hindu Bengalis, he added.
“One has to understand why these Hindu refugees came to India,” Mr Sarma, who left the Congress to join the BJP in 2015, said.
He also said the Narendra Modi government’s recent decision to grant constitutional status to clause 6 of the Assam Accord that ensures protection of indigenous Assamese from demographic invasion is a boon for the people of the state.
He argued that tribal status given to six communities of Assam will make it a forte of indigenous Assamese people.
He also thanked PM Modi for “transforming” the socio-economic status of the entire Northeast region and improving the much needed infrastructure.
“It is during the last four and half years that the entire Northeast region has moved from the periphery to the core of national development agenda. Under the Act East policy, the prime minister has raised new hopes among the people of the region who have otherwise always suffered due to step-motherly treatment meted out by successive central governments,” Mr Sarma said at the programme “India’s North East: From the periphery to the core”.
He alleged the Congress’s approach towards the Northeast reduced all the states in the region to the lowest level of development.
“I have no hesitation to say that since the era of our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress reduced the Northeast to the lowest level of development. However, it is not the case now and due to Prime Minister Modi, the entire region is among the highest contributors to the country’s economy,” Mr Sarma claimed.