'Assam shouldn't become another Kashmir': State minister on Citizenship Bill

Assam Citizenship Bill protest Student activists in Guwahati burning effigies of the prime minister and Assam chief minister following the passage of the Citizenship Bill in the Lok Sabha | AFP

Defending the Narendra Modi government's controversial Citizenship Bill, Assam's Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday said its implementation is a must for the state to ensure it does not face a 'Kashmir-like' situation in the future.

He claimed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill can be an "opportunity" for not just Assam but the entire northeast.

Assam and other states in the northeast have been witnessing strong protests over the Modi government's attempt to pass the Citizenship Bill in Parliament. The Citizenship Bill seeks to grant citizenship to people from minority communities—Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians—from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India even if they don't possess any proper documents. The Citizenship Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, but the Rajya Sabha did not take it up in the just-concluded winter session.

"People of Assam need to understand that this is not an Assam-specific bill and the burden of these refugees will be shared by the entire country. In fact, it will protect 17 important assembly seats of Assam from going to the All India United Democratic Front led by Badruddin Ajmal. We need to win the fight of civilisation as we cannot surrender Assam like we surrendered Kashmir," Sarma, who is also the convener of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance, said.

Accusing the Congress of misleading the people of Assam over the Citizenship Bill, Sarma said nearly 20 lakh of the 40 lakh people left out during the process of National Register of Citizens update were Hindus. Addressing the monthly Vimarsha talk show programme at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi, Sarma claimed several Muslim refugees could manage to include their names in the NRC by manufacturing legacy documents due to their common names with Indian Muslims.

However, similar opportunities were not available with Hindu Bengalis, Sarma added.

"One has to understand why these Hindu refugees came to India," Sarma, who left the Congress to join the BJP in 2015, said. He also said the Narendra Modi government's recent decision to grant constitutional status to clause 6 of the Assam Accord—that ensures protection of indigenous Assamese from demographic invasion—is a boon for the people of the state. Sarma argued that tribal status given to six communities of Assam will make it a forte of indigenous Assamese people.

Sarma also thanked Modi for "transforming" the socio-economic status of the entire northeast and improving the much-needed infrastructure. "It is during the last four-and-half years that the entire northeast region has moved from the periphery to the core of the national development agenda. Under the 'Act East' policy, the prime minister has raised new hopes among the people of the region who have otherwise always suffered due to step-motherly treatment meted out by successive Central governments," Sarma said at the programme India's North East: From the periphery to the core.

He alleged the Congress's approach towards the northeast reduced all the states in the region to the lowest level of development. "I have no hesitation to say that since the era of our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress reduced the northeast to the lowest level of development. However, it is not the case now and due to Prime Minister Modi, the entire region is among the highest contributors to the country's economy," Sarma claimed.