Who is an Assamese? BJP govt looks really confused

by - 12:42 PM


State cabinet minister Himanta Sarma has added new twist to controversy over citizenship bill.


First the BJP government in Centre sparked off protests in Assam when it introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The bill seeks to make Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship.

Groups opposing the bill argue it contradicts the terms of the Assam Accord of 1985, which says that illegal migrants from Bangladesh who have entered the state after March 25, 1971, would be deported.

Now, Assam cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has added a new twist to the controversy. On Friday (December 16), he said all those who entered the state between 1951 and 1971 "must not enjoy the privileges and status granted by Clause VI of the Assam Accord". For the uninitiated, Clause VI lays down constitutional safeguards for the "Assamese" people.

Sarma has been maintaining that on humanitarian grounds, the Assam Accord could not be a reason for refusing to accept Hindu migrants in Assam. (PTI photo)

"Assam had to take the burden of all those who illegally entered the state between 1951 and 1971 by accepting them as citizens according to the Accord. Since Clause VI was incorporated in the Accord to provide constitutional safeguards to Assamese people, those who entered the state between 1951 and 1971 should be excluded from the ambit of the clause," Sarma was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

Sarma’s statement again seems confusing as he has been continuously saying that the BJP has a reason to grant citizenship to Hindus who have migrated from Bangladesh because of religious persecution there. The BJP, during Assam elections, made the granting of citizenship to Hindu immigrants and deportation of illegals (read only Muslim Bangladeshi illegal immigrants) a key poll promise.

Sarma has been maintaining that on humanitarian grounds, the Assam Accord could not be a reason for refusing to accept Hindu migrants in the state. He, however, also says the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, doesn’t mention anywhere that Assam alone would have to take the burden.

Those protesting the citizenship bill, meanwhile, are finding it difficult to make any sense of Sarma’s confusing statements.

He and his party say Hindu immigrants will be granted citizenship. This means all Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants living in Assam will be eligible. Now, he is saying those who entered the state between 1951 and 1971 must not enjoy the privileges granted by Clause VI of the Assam Accord. What is it that the BJP is trying to force upon the people of Assam?

Many believe the latest stunt is simply an attempt to appease those who are against the Centre's move to grant citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. Even Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a coalition partner of the BJP-led government in Assam, is opposed to the proposed citizenship legislation. The AGP has demanded that all illegal migrants be detected and deported from the state (according to the Assam Accord) irrespective of their religion.

Whatever be the case, Sarma has to make clear where his loyalties lie. It’s either the Assamese or the Hindu cause.

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