Protests against Bill have spread from Assam to other northeastern states

GUWAHATI: Despite assurances, neither the Centre nor the BJP-led state government has been able to contain the evergrowing street protests against Delhi's decision to amend citizenship rules. Resistance against the Centre's proposal, in fact, has spread to all the other six northeastern states, some of which have already seen violent demonstrations. Once the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 formally becomes an act, it will offer citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Opponents of the bill say migrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan are negligible but the number from Bangladesh is huge and has the potential to threaten the identity of the Assamese as well as other indigenous people. With Bezbaruah's departure, the panel loses much of its credibility as an agency mandated to protect and preserve the identity of the Assamese as well as the indigenous people.

Earlier this week, two former presidents of the Asam Sahitya Sabha, Rongbang Terang and Nagen Saikia, and noted educationist Mukunda Rajbangshi had opted out of the panel. The All Assam Students' Union (AASU), one of the proponents of the 1978-85 anti-foreigner agitation and one of the signatories to the Assam Accord, was the first to dissociate itself from the Clause 6 panel. It announced its decision soon after the Lok Sabha passed the citizenship bill on Tuesday.

AASU has described the panel as a "diversionary tactic" of the Centre before the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. It is of the view that the bill turns Clause 5 of the Assam Accord redundant. This clause deals with the issue of foreigners and sets the criteria for determining who a foreigner is and what action can be taken against them.

Saikia justified his decision to stay out the panel by questioning the efficacy of a panel announced "at the fag-end" of the NDA government at the Centre. Terang, on the other hand, cited poor health as his reason for opting out. Like AASU, Rajbangshi says the passing of the bill by the Lok Sabha has made the Clause 6 committee "meaningless".

Following a different route of protest, writer and senior journalist Dhiren Bezbaruah says he will remain in the panel so that he can highlight its inherent fallacies.

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