The Indian government is all set to accord citizenship to illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian. But, a chain of recent events has forced the Narendra Modi-led government at the center to consider excluding the north-eastern state of Assam from the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that is soon to be tabled in the parliament for ratification.
According to the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985, the state has provided refuge to a huge number of foreigners who illegally entered the country from Bangladesh and Nepal. The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Assam's dreaded militant outfit fighting against illegal migrants for the last 40 years, claims that the illegal immigrants have destroyed the social fabric of the state and that they should be systematically weeded out. However, the Citizenship Amendment Bill which aims to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants facing religious persecution in the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, has unleashed fresh resentment among the insurgent groups as well as the common people of Assam as evident from the recent killing of five Bengali speaking persons by the insurgent group in the Tinsukia district and the growing incidences of local youths joining the militant outfit.
However, Anup Chetia, founder and leader of ULFA has claimed that the number of disillusioned youth of the state taking up arms is much larger than what the state police are claiming.
"Most of the young generation don't believe in democracy; they don't believe in the non-violent movement. I have information that many of the young boys have left their home to join ULFA for armed struggle due to this wrong policy (Citizenship Amendment Bill) of the government of India. If the situation in Assam goes out of control, government at the center will be fully responsible," Anup Chetia, founder of ULFA and now general secretary of the pro-peace faction of the outfit, told Sputnik.
"If this Citizenship Bill is passed, then again we have to take another two million foreigners. This means again we have to accept a huge burden. More Bangladeshis will come in the near future and again the same situation will arise after 15 or 20 years. If the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) or other Hindu nationalist parties are in power at that time, they will again say that these illegal immigrants are Hindus and that we should accept them. This kind of politics will end our identity and culture forever," Chetia cautioned.
It is not just the militant outfit in Assam that is opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill introduced by the ruling BJP. BJP's ally in the state, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), has termed the bill as "anti-Assam."
The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, also claims that frustration and resentment among the Assamese are forcing them to join ULFA.
"In Assam, we have two opinions. Some organizations want that the citizenship bill should be passed as it is the commitment of this country at the time of independence that the minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan would always be welcome to this country. If any Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh are facing religious prosecution, they have only one address, that is, India. Another school of thought is, let the citizenship bill be passed but Assam should be excluded from this because we have already accepted a huge burden of foreign nationals between 1951 to 1971 by the implication of Assam accord. I am sure that the views of Assamese will reflect in the final recommendation of the joint parliamentary committee on the proposed bill," Himanta Biswa Sarma, leader of the BJP and minister in Assam's government, told Sputnik.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is expected to be tabled in the upcoming winter session of the parliament, which is scheduled to begin December 11. The Bill also seeks to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay in the country to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalization.
The fear of the revival of a bloody insurgency in Assam has dashed the hopes of around two million people of Bangladeshi and Nepali origin who have been living in Assam for decades.