Voices of dissent have started to emerge from within the ruling BJP over the Centre's proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955 even as cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma today invited intellectual Hiren Gohain, who is opposed to the move, to an open TV debate on the contentious issue. A senior member of the BJP's Assam unit, Mira Borthakur, today spoke against the Centre's move and said there should be no politics over religion.
She said she would continue to protest against the move and urged chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to raise his voice to protect jati, mati, bheti (ethnicity, land and resources), a slogan coined by the BJP during its campaign for the state Assembly polls this year.
Her protest follows Sarma's open backing of the Centre's proposal to grant citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus on the ground that they will only help save the Hindus from becoming a minority in Assam. Party insiders said there are others who are also not comfortable with the Centre's move because influx from Bangladeshi is a sensitive issue in the state. The BJP is the ruling party both in Delhi and Dispur.
Sarma did not comment on Borthakur's statement but said the BJP leadership would respond on his behalf. "My position is the stated position of my party (the BJP) in the election manifesto. I have nothing to add to it," he told The Telegraph this evening.
Initially, the state BJP distanced itself from both Sarma and Borthakur's statements. Assam BJP spokesperson Rupam Goswami said the statements were made by the two leaders in their personal capacity. However, later in this evening, he said whatever Sarma said was the party's stand and not his personal opinion.
Protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, have grown with the last-minute postponement of the joint parliamentary committee's two-day visit to Assam from today.
The bill envisages according citizenship to minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who fled to escape religious persecution and entered India without any valid documents, after six years of residence in India. The committee was formed to seek the views of stakeholders on the proposed amendments and present a report to Parliament. Though Sarma did not comment on Borthakur's statements, he criticised Gohain who has maintained that giving Indian citizenship to all Hindu migrants from Bangladesh would threaten the very existence of the Assamese people.
"I can understand AASU and AJYCP burning my effigies or Prafulla Kumar Mahanta's criticism since they were associated with the Assam Agitation but what I can't understand is why Hiren Gohain Sir, who was against Assam Agitation, is opposing the Centre's move. I am ready for a debate on the issue on any TV channel. Allot us five uninterrupted minutes each to make our respective case. I have also got cuttings of Gohain Sir's articles written during the Assam Movement," Sarma said.
Sarma is of the view that Muslim migrants, and not Hindus, from Bangladesh threaten to reduce the Assamese to a minority in their own state. To buttress his point, he pointed out that in 11 districts of the state Assamese people have already become a minority and if the trend continues, they will become minority in six more districts.
He also asked those opposed to the citizenship amendment bill to find out which community has threatened to reduce the Assamese to a minority. The citizens' group led by Gohain had yesterday said various organisations were ready to submit their views before the joint parliamentary committee despite the short notice. "The postponement was mysterious and leaves scope for doubt about the government's intention. The decision to oppose is a collective and conscious decision, not my decision," Gohain had said.
Source: The Telegraph