Ever since protests erupted against the center’s decision to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019, the state BJP, under the helm of Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has been trying to gather all the support it can get. In his efforts, Sarma has reached out to the common populace in the state through his peace rallies, conducted silent marches and spoken to party workers en masse.
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The first such meeting was with the social media volunteers of the party in Shankardev Kalakhetra on 23rd of December 2019. After this closed door meeting, many write ups, posts and pamphlets have appeared both in the online as well as offline world to counter ‘misinformation’ being spread by the protesters. They have been distributed in subsequent meetings and rallies and posted in WhatsApp groups to ensure support for the act from the common Assamese people. One of these pamphlets talks about the act at length and then proceeds to quell some alleged rumors in bullet points. But a close look brings out some clear inconsistencies in these statements.
It begins by saying that the Hindu population in Bangladesh is as low as 1 Crore 30 Lakh and so there are no questions about crores of Bangladeshis entering Assam. But leaders in the BJP including home minister Amit Shah have time and again stated that no hard evidence is required by the immigrants to prove their religion and a court affidavit is enough to prove that. As long as the immigrant accepts his religion to be one of those listed in the act as minorities, he is eligible for citizenship. Under such circumstances what is the probability of crores of people coming into the country under the guise of new names and religions? Already there have been reports of people adopting such policies in Arunachal Pradesh. So we have to entertain the possibility that this can change the number game to way worse than what the ruling party is trying to portray.
The pamphlet goes on to cite the NRC as evidence of 4-5 Lakh Hindu Bangladeshis staying in Assam. It is worthwhile to remember that this is the same NRC that all parties involved, including Himanta Biswa Sarma and the BJP, have rejected saying that it’s data is unreliable and tempered. It also says that these Hindu Bangladeshis, primarily in Barak, have assimilated with the Assamese culture. While this might be true for the case of the Indian Bengalis that have stayed in Assam since way before 1971, in the case of the Barak Valley there are certain grey areas. There have been instances in the past where Assamese people have been put at risk. Like in January 2019, when students in Assam University Silchar, had protested against the CAB and were threatened by BJP leader Pradip Dutta Ray of dire consequences including rustication from the university and stopping all further admissions of Assamese students.
The pamphlet then mentions the perpetrators of attacks on Bihu artistes or publication of Miya Kobita to be the real enemies of Assamese culture. While trying to bring in the communal colour, it chooses to ignore the fact that the entire North East is protesting not for the exclusion of Muslims from the act but for the inclusion of any illegal immigrants post 1971 irrespective of religion. The people want not only Hindu but Muslim foreigners to be deported as well.
The next point addressed is the issue of employment for indigenous people being reduced due to the citizenship act. It craftily mentions that only the people who have come in till 2014 will be eligible for any listed jobs. It fails to put forward the fact that through generations and generations these foreigners will multiply and continue to outnumber the indigenous population. This will create more and more competition for employment. Taking all these into consideration the Assam Accord had already decided upon the cut off year of 1971. The delay of more than 30 years in it’s implementation is one of the prime reasons behind the 17 Lakh educated unemployed in the state. Assam has more unemployed youth in it’s cities than anywhere else in India. Under such circumstances, how healthy is this competition for the youth of the state?
The fear of loss of land by the people of Assam is addressed next. It chooses to play the communal card once again by saying that the real fear is the encroachment of Sattra lands and forest lands by Muslim immigrants. As before, it fails to notice, or probably decides not to notice, the fact that the protesters are supportive of identification and deportation of Muslim and Hindu foreigners alike.
In the end it reaches out to the tea tribes saying that the fear of the loss of their jobs are unfounded as well since all foreigners coming in after 2014 will be identified and deported. Now Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma has previously mentioned the reason behind the cut off year being 2014. By his own words, no foreigner has entered Assam after 2014 i.e. ever since Narendra Modi took over the reins of the country from the UPA government. If that is the case, who are these people that he wishes to deport to secure the jobs of the tea tribe? If not, why did he repeatedly lie before the people that no immigrants have entered post 2014? Also, if there is a machinery in place to identify these immigrants (because they can’t be identified by their clothes for sure), why can’t the Assam Accord be respected and all immigrants post 1971, irrespective of religion be identified and deported as well?
Assam’s air is vibrating with political tension right now and all efforts are being made by unwanted forces to give it a communal colour. Since misinformation can plague the entire psyche of the people, it is very important to keep our eyes and ears open to identify the true sources behind them.
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