Guwahati/New Delhi/Kolkata: Violent protests against the amended Citizenship Act rocked Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal and Delhi on Friday, forcing Union home minister Amit Shah to cancel his visit to the northeastern states. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs had to also postpone its trip.
Assam is witnessing one of the most violent protests by the people in its history with three railway stations, post office, bank, bus terminus and many other public properties being set ablaze or totally damaged. At least three people have been killed during protests.
Eight columns of the Army and Assam Rifles have been deployed in Assam, including capital Guwahati, as protests against the amended Citizenship Act turned violent on Friday, resulting in death of three people.
Defence Public Relation Officer Lt Col P Khongsai said the Army and Assam Rifles were requisitioned by the civil administration in Morigaon, Sonitpur and Dibrugarh districts besides Guwahati to arrest the deteriorating law and order situation.
"Till now, a total of eight columns have been requisitioned which include one in Bongaigaon, one in Morigaon, four columns in Guwahati and two in Sonitpur," he said. Each column of the force comprise of around 70 personnel.
A rally demanding the Meghalaya governor's nod to a proposed ordinance seeking mandatory registration of outsiders entering the state turned ugly as the agitators clashed with the police in front of the Raj Bhavan which left 25 injured.
The rally, sponsored by the Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organisations (COMSO), an umbrella organisation of student bodies, were also demanding that the Centre implement inner line permit regime in the state.
The demand for ILP has been growing in Meghalaya since the Centre announced it for Manipur during the debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill when it was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Meghalaya cabinet had approved the amendment Meghalaya Residents, Safety and Security Act, 2016, which seeks mandatory registration of outsiders for entering the state after the NRC in Assam.
During the clash, the police batoncharged the protesters and fired tear gas shells that left about 25 people injured, including two of its personnel. The protesters, who turned up in thousands, also vandalised a fire brigade vehicle parked a few metres away from the main entrance to the Raj Bhavan main gate.
At least two police personnel and about 20 to 23 civilians, including women, were injured, East Khasi Hills district superintendent of police Claudia Lyngwa said. Lyngwa, however, denied that security of the Raj Bhavan was breached by the protesters.
Protests also reached the shores of West Bengal, with agitators resorting to violence and arson at railway stations and thoroughfares across the state, seeking immediate revocation of the law.
People in the minority-dominated districts of rural Howrah, Murshidabad, Birbhum, parts of Burdwan and North Bengal hit the streets in the morning, raising slogans against the Modi government, according to police sources. Some of them even attacked local BJP workers and leaders, prompting the saffron camp to allege that the attacks were masterminded by the ruling TMC.
In Murshidabad district, bordering Bangladesh, protesters set fire to Beldanga railway station complex and thrashed RPF personnel deputed there. "Several parts of the station, RPF kiosks were set on fire and the tracks vandalised. Services have come to a halt here," a senior RPF official said.
In Raghunathganj area of the district, the agitators set vehicles on fire and tore copies of the amended Act. They blocked National Highway-34 and ransacked vehicles and shops.
Several people were injured when their vehicles were pelted with stones. A huge police contingent was rushed to Beldanga and Raghunathganj to control the situation. The police had to resort to lathicharge in Beldanga to disperse the mob.
Similar incidents were also reported from Uluberia and Diamond Harbour, both minority-dominated areas, as agitators blocked railway tracks and vandalised stations, leaving several passengers stranded during the day.
The affected trains included the 12841 Howrah-Chennai Coromandel Express, 22897 Howrah-Digha Kandari Express and suburban locals. The demonstrators, numbering around 250, obstructed the Up and Down lines at Uluberia station and hurled stones at the stranded trains, injuring a driver, South Eastern Railway spokesman Sanjoy Ghosh said. The railways has sought adequate forces from the state government to protect the station premises in violence-hit areas of the state.
A large number of protesters, including Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind leaders, protested at Delhi's Jantar Mantar on Friday against the amended citizenship law, which they described as "anti constitutional" and "divisive", and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
Separately, Jamia Millia Islamia University students held a protest against the law at the university. A third protest was organised by the Delhi Congress in Seelampur area of East Delhi.
The protesters at Jantar Mantar, led by JUH general secretary Maulana Mahmood Madani, carried placards with slogans like "Save-Constitution, Withdraw CAB", "Division on basis of religion unacceptable"and "CAB nahin Rozgar Chahiye".
JUH leaders termed the law a "draconian" legislation and urged the president to stop it from coming into effect. Madani said the law "is against the Constitution of India which denies discrimination on the basis of religion." He urged Muslim youths to maintain peace and tranquillity.
The organisation held protests across the country against the law, according to a Jamiat statement. The protest by Jamia students turned violent after police and students, who wanted to march to Parliament House from the university, clashed with each other. Fifty students were detained following the clash, after the protestors were stopped at the varsity gate.
In Seelampur, thousands of Congress workers, a majority of them from the minority community, protested against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, with the party asserting that it will wage an "all out fight" to protect the Constitution.
Protests against the amended Citizenship Act continued to rage across northeast, with students' unions in Arunachal Pradesh on Friday boycotting their examination to hit the streets across cities, seeking immediate revocation of the law.
Thousands of agitators, led by Rajiv Gandhi University Students' Union (RGUSU) and Students' Union of NERIST (SUN), marched from the varsity to Raj Bhavan, covering a distance of around 30 km on the hilly terrain.
Local people, along with those belonging to the Assamese community, also joined the rally here to protest against the controversial law, most of them raising slogans against the BJP-led government at the Centre. The agitators submitted a memorandum to Governor B D Mishra, stressing that the amended Act would not be implemented in the state.
North-east May Face Fuel Shortage
Assam and other North Eastern states may face fuel supply issues if the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act continues for another week, as it has already led to shutdown of refineries, petrochemical plant and oil-producing facilities in the region.
Indian Oil Corp (IOC) has been forced to shut down its Digboi refinery in Assam and is operating Guwahati unit at minimal throughput, while Oil India Ltd (OIL) has been forced to shut LPG production and its crude oil production has dropped by 15-20 per cent, multiple sources at the state-owned companies said.
Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has seen up to 25 per cent drop in production, and gas supplies to Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Ltd were snapped, leading to shutting down of Assam gas cracker project.
Sources said the agitation has blocked the movement of tankers and trucks, which are mostly used to supply petrol, diesel and LPG from the refineries to different parts of the North East. With limited storage capacity, the companies have been forced to curtail production in absence of evacuation of products, they said.
At present, depots and petrol pumps have enough stock but they will run dry if supplies continue to remain interrupted for few more days, they said. OIL has shut LPG production for the same reason, they said, adding that the agitation has also limited movement of employees and officers who work at the refineries and oil installations.
After two senior Bangladesh ministers Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Thursday cancelled their visits to India, the annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe scheduled from December 15-17 in Guwahati was deferred.
US, France issue Travel Alert; Maldives Says 'New Law India's Internal Matter'
France has put out an advisory saying that its citizens are recommended to stay away from any gathering and regularly follow news to latest information. "Following the vote on the new Citizenship Law (CAB), general strikes, demonstrations and scuffles with the police broke out in several cities in the states of Assam and Tripura. Air transport to Assam is suspended, for the moment. It is recommended to stay away from any gathering, to regularly follow the news and to respect the records of the Indian authorities (curfew in particular)," the advisory read.
A top French envoy said that France is aware of the ongoing debate in India on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and National Register of Citizens, but these were issues that other nations should refrain from commenting on.
The United States also issued an 'alert' for its citizens travelling to the North-east. "US citizens in the northeastern states of India should exercise caution in light of media reports of protests and violence in response to the approval of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Government curfews are in place in some areas. Internet and mobile communications may be disrupted," the official advisory issued by US Embassy and Consulates in India read.
Meanwhile, Maldives' Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed said the amended Citizenship Act is an internal matter of India. "I have complete trust in Indian democracy and whatever comes out from the process would be what majority of people from India want. It is India's internal matter. India is one of the safe havens for persecuted minority communities," he said.
NDA ally Goa Forward Party (GFP) on Friday joined in protests held in Margao city of Goa against the amended Citizenship Act. GFP chief and former deputy chief minister Vijai Sardesai and members of the state executive committee of the party participated in the protests.
Sardesai said his party stood for communal harmony, inclusiveness and progressiveness, and a law which creates feeling of insecurity in any community is a bad law. Did the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill mean "communal ammunition bill", he asked.
Meanwhile, The party's Overseas Congress will join the Bharat Bachao Rally through demonstrations around the world. "Our message to save India from divisiveness, arrogance and incompetence will be spread worldwide," the Overseas Congress said.
(With PTI inputs)