With the credibility of the title of ‘ jatiya nayak’ (national hero) fast eroding amid his government’s continued silence on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Saturday said he would have no moral authority to hold on to power if he could not protect the interests of the people.
“If I cannot protect the people’s interests, there is no point to my staying on as chief minister,” Sonowal said at an informal interaction with editors and senior journalists of the state here to seek opinion on what should be done to address the continuing discontent against the NDA government’s proposal to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955.
This was Sonowal’s first statement since the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the bill started holding public hearings in the North-east five days ago, triggering a division of opinion between the people of the Brahmaputra Valley, who opposed the bill, and those in the Barak Valley, who supported it.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that the Centre has proposed, seeks to make Hindus, Jains, Christians, Parsis and Buddhists of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship and bring down the residency period for eligibility from 11 years to six years – a contentious move in a region haunted by the spectre of the Bangladeshi migrant for decades.
Sonowal said, “There are 33 districts in the state. Our objective should be to keep the unity among people intact, no matter what sacrifice we have to make.” The chief minister added that he would consult senior citizens and intellectuals on the matter as well.
Sonowal’s image as ‘ jatiya nayak’ (national hero) – bestowed upon him by the people of the the state after the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act in 2005 after Sonowal filed a petition against it – has taken a beating over the past few days.
“We will never go against the interests of the people of the state. When the Centre had imposed the IM (DT) Act, no JPC had been set up to hear the people out. Now, it is upon my request that the JPC has come here for public hearings,” Sonowal said. The IM (DT) Act had been enacted in 1983 under the Indira Gandhi-led government.
“The JPC has not taken any decision as the hearings are not yet over. The panel has hinted, however, that it might come back for another round of hearings,” Sonowal added.
In the meantime, the Meghalaya government announced it would unanimously oppose the bill, which led to protests in Assam against its government’s “silence” on the matter. The BJP-led government in the state is now under pressure from both within the government and the people. While BJP’s ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has threatened to walk out of the ruling three-party coalition if the bill is passed, Sonowal is at the receiving end of growing public pressure to reject the Centre’s proposal.
On Saturday, AGP started a state-wide signature against the bill in the city. Leaders of the regional party said they are planning to collect as many as 50 lakh signatures from across the state before sending it to the Joint Parliamentary Committee which is reviewing the bill.
On the other hand, the divergent opinions of the people of the Barak Valley and the Brahmaputra Valley on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is also getting reflected in the state Congress, with party leaders divided in their outlook on the bill. The bill has met with stiff opposition in the Brahmaputra Valley. But the Barak Valley, which is dominated by Bengali Hindus, has come out in support of it.
Source: Times News Network