Despite its paltry numbers in Parliament, Congress has been vociferously protesting the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 which is on the threshold of becoming law with Union Home Minister Amit Shah placing the bill before the Lok Sabha on Monday. Once passed in Lok Sabha, the party also plans to place the Bill in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
With numbers in its favour in Lok Sabha, the bill is expected to cruise through the Lower House while the NDA with 116 seats in Rajya Sabha is seven short of the majority mark of 123. However, that should not be an issue as the party is likely to get support from parties like the Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK. The BJD has seven members while AIADMK members has 11 members.
Calling it anti-minority, the Congress has been protesting the CAB both within and outside the Parliament. Even Congress MLAs in Assam have surpassed each other in holding unique protests against the Bill. If Baghbar MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed slept in the Assam Assembly by blocking its entrance for nearly four hours, Mariani MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi went ahead to cut his hand to ink a placard in blood protesting the CAB.
As the party heightens its protests against CAB, Nowgong Lok Sabha MP from Congress Pradyut Bordoloi in conversation with Firstpost seeks to explain why CAB is going to be detrimental for the North East in general and Assam in particular. Edited excerpts:
Are you satisfied with the newly drafted Citizenship Amendment Bill where safeguards for areas under Inner Line Permit and Sixth Schedule have been provided? Do you these are sufficient safeguards?
Obviously I am not satisfied with the CAB 2019 because it attacks the basic tenets of our Constitution. The proposal for exempting the areas under Inner Line Permit (ILP) and the Sixth Schedule (of the Indian Constitution) is a hoax because any foreigner getting asylum in any part of the country and after obtaining citizenship can easily travel and sneak into those protected areas. Today the reality is that hundreds of Indian citizens hailing from the non-protected areas are deceptively settled inside the protected areas.
Despite being in power for many years, the Congress never seriously took the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. BJP is also is in no mood either. Do we agree with the contention of AASU and other organisations that CAB violates the sanctity of the Assam Accord? If yes, why?
Don't forget that the Assam Accord has not only proved to be a time-tested and successful conflict resolution formula, but it was also instrumental in ushering an era of peace and stability in the conflict-ridden state of Assam. While various other provisions of the Accord have been successfully implemented over the years, the implementation of Clause 6, which deals with the special provisions of safeguards for the Assamese people, however, could not logically be taken forward as the civil society and various stakeholders somehow could not unanimously decide on the definition of an Assamese. But the CAB obviously violates the sanctity of the Assam Accord as it has brazenly shifted the 'Lakshman Rekha' of the Accord, ie 24 March, 1971.
It was during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as the prime minister that a dangerous portion of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 1986, of allowing "every person born in India on or after 26th January, 1950 but before the commencement of the act and on or after such commencement and either of whose parents are citizens in India at the time of his birth, shall be citizen of India by birth" was added. In hindsight, do you regret that?
Please remember that during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure Citizenship Amendment Act, 1986 was essentially amended not for a specific religious group of people but for the benefit of the repatriated people whereby citizenship was offered to the offspring born in India after 1950 out of the parents, if either one or the other was being an Indian citizen. However, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's time this provision was further liberalised in the year 2003 that even if none of the parents was a citizen of India, a child born out of such parents in India after 26 January 1950 would be given citizenship.
Do you think CAB violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution?
Obviously the CAB violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution besides nullifying the basic Preamble of our Constitution. CAB is unquestionably unconstitutional as it attacks the preamble, Article 14 and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
Based on The Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950 Amit Shah has come up with two classes -- economic migrants and refugees to base the new CAB draft. Do you think it's politically motivated?
The CAB is basically an afterthought of NRC project taken up in Assam with the underlying objective that a Hindu population should be increased within certain vulnerable areas such as Assam. It serves the politics of BJP as a tool to further the agenda of communal polarisation in the country and wherever possible engineer a demographic tilt inflating the Hindu population.
BJP blames AASU for the cut-off dates. They say AASU leaders were tricked into it by Congress. Otherwise, the cut-off would have been 1951 instead of 1971. Neither would 2014 have to be accommodated. What is your opinion about the cut-off dates?
The Assam Accord was a fructification of dialogue and discussion to end the six years long anti-foreigner agitation, as otherwise, the agitation was giving birth to insurgency and secessionist tendency in the North East. The Assam Accord proved to be the most successful conflict resolution formula after protracted negotiation and dialogue with the civil society which was approved by all the political parties at that point of time including the BJP. Today, the CAB will nullify and destroy the edifice of the Assam Accord that stabilised the region and brought lasting peace.
The then-government of Assam did not think ILP was a mistake. Do you think so?
Even if the provision of the ILP was not instituted in the plains of Assam, the tribal blocks and belts besides the provision of the 6th Schedule were kept to protect the indigenous people of Assam.
BJP is now finding fault with Prafulla Kumar Mahanta saying that his party AGP has understood the ground realities but the former chief minister has not. The party now accuses Mahanta of including Abdul Muhib Majumdar, the architect of the draconian IMDT Act, in his cabinet when he was the chief minister.
I am not aware of such allegation against Prafulla Kumar Mahanta.
BJP is trying to say that the Act will usher the North East into a peaceful era and will help India with China by becoming a gateway with South East Asia? Are you convinced?
Not at all. In fact, the Act will create permanent fissures among certain communities and push Assam into another era of turmoil.
What about the figure of five lakh Hindu Bangladeshis that the BJP is talking about? Do you think the number is correct?
The number is speculative.
Will Assam continue to suffer? The general feeling is that Congress imposed IMDT and now BJP has come up with CAB.
There is a fundamental difference between the IMDT and the CAB. IMDT never dealt with the question of giving citizenship to foreigners. It was a measure to deal with an extraordinary situation when during the height of Assam movement (1979-1985), thousands of genuine Indian minority people (both Hindus and Muslims) were hounded, detained and harassed by the chauvinist forces including police personnel at the local level. The IMDT merely subdued the power of police and shifted the onus to a judicial process to determine who is a foreigner.
There is a talk that the BJP might propose to extend ST status to include, Koch Rajbongshi, Tai Ahom, Chutiya, Matak, Moran and the 36 tea tribes in a bid to divide the groups opposing CAB. What do you have to say about it?
Giving 'tribal' status to six ethnic groups of Assam has been a long-standing issue; even the Congress supported it. BJP promised but has been dodging the issue for more than a decade now. We will welcome the award of scheduling to these communities without disturbing the present equilibrium.