Citizenship Bill row: Not just AGP, BJP risking ties with regional allies across Northeast

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Citizenship Bill row: Not just AGP, BJP risking ties with regional allies across Northeast

Most political parties, including the allies of BJP in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, opposition Congress and Left parties are opposed to the bill, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A day after Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) exited the BJP-led coalition government in Assam over the Centre's stand on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, the saffron party seems to have risked its ties with regional parties across the region.

The bill, instead of resolving the long-going crisis over alleged illegal immigration in Assam, seems to be making the situation more volatile.

Most Northeast parties, including the allies of BJP, opposition Congress and Left parties have strongly opposed the bill, saying "it is against the spirit of the Constitution".

A number of civil society groups in the Northeast are opposed to the bill -- that seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.

Road to Lok Sabha: Congress-mukt or BJP-free?

The latest developments coming just months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the opposition against the BJP-led central government's decision doesn't augur well for the saffron party, considering its claims of making the region Congress-mukt following assembly election success that the party achieved after forging alliances with regional powerhouses.

The BJP has already declared its Mission 21 -- party chief Amit Shah's target of winning 21 of 25 Lok Sabha seats -- in the region in 2019.

Besides Congress, the CPI(M)-led Left parties, BJP allies Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), National People's Party in Meghalaya, Mizo National Front and most other regional parties are strongly opposing the bill, and have demanded its withdrawal.

Alienating allies

The governments of Meghalaya and Mizoram have already adopted resolutions against the bill. Reacting to Centre's decision clearing the bill on Monday, Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma said the state government has passed a resolution in the cabinet (against the bill) and "that is the most aggressive stand any government has taken". He, however, remained non-committal about withdrawing support from the NDA.

"...we have been clear to the NDA government that this [the bill] is something we will not support. We will see when the time comes but as of now we have made our stand clear we are not supporting this amendment bill," Sangma told journalists on Monday evening.

In Nagaland, the cabinet of the NDPP-BJP alliance government has decided to ask the Centre to reconsider the bill.

In Mizoram, the Mizo National Front -- which is part of the BJP-led NDA and North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) -- on has declared that the state government stands strongly against the bill and and extended support to the 11-hour bandh in the Northeast called by the North East Students' Organisation (Neso) against the Centre's bid to pass the bill in Parliament.

Calling the bill an attempt to make illegal migrants eligible for Indian citizenship on the basis of religion, Chief Minister Zoramthanga has said the Mizo National Front (MNF) had been opposing the bill from the very beginning.

Saying that the bill was against the principle of secularism, the CM told mediapersons, "If passed, the bill would be harmful to states like Mizoram where there is a large number of illegal Buddhist migrants from Bangladesh."

The MNF recently returned to power in the state after a decade, handing a crushing defeat to the Congress, which lost its last bastion in the region. Meanwhile, the entire region has erupted in protests. A region-wide bandh has been called against the bill, which was redrafted and cleared by the Union cabinet on Monday.

Unified shutdown

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the entire Northeast erupted in protests with an 11-hour bandh from 5 am to 4 pm. The influential student body, All Assam Students' Union (AASU), has claimed this is the first time in 10 years that the student outfit has called a bandh.

According to AASU general secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, "We don't mean to create inconvenience for anyone through bandhs. But the situation is so grave that we have been left with no other alternative." In Assam, bandhs were declared illegal by the Supreme Court back in 2012.

This is also the first time since 1947 that the entire region is observing a unified bandh, the AASU claimed.

The North East Students' Union (NESO) -- the umbrella student body representing all the states -- has also called for the bandh across seven northeastern states, which is being supported by the AGP, the Congress and 30 other ethnic outfits from Assam.

The decision to call a region-wide bandh was taken following PM Narendra Modi's rally in Silchar on January 4, where he said that the bill will be passed by Parliament soon.