Celebrations broke out across the Northeast today as the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill-2016 lapsed before it could be ratified by the Rajya Sabha. The legislation had set off protests in the region, spurring violence and pitting communities against each other.
But it's over, at least for now. Like a bad dream.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill will lapse on June 3, when the term of the present Lok Sabha ends. The 17th Lok Sabha has to be constituted before that date, in the wake of the upcoming parliamentary poll in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying hard to score a re-election.
While bills that remain pending in the Rajya Sabha after being introduced there are not affected by the dissolution of the lower house, those that get stuck in the upper house while coming through the Lok Sabha route do lapse. The opposition had been opposing the provisions of the two bills in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP-led government lacks numbers.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill-2019 was intended at providing Indian citizenship to all immigrants - except Muslims - from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after a mere seven years of residence even if they do not have any documents. The legislation, passed by the Lok Sabha during the winter session on January 8, had been awaiting the Rajya Sabha's approval.
The development has given rise to celebrations across the Northeast, especially in the opposition camp. "This is the victory of secular India versus communal India. We have defeated this bill, which the BJP was trying to push despite it being against the constitution," said Assam Leader of Opposition Debabrata Saikia.
The protesters are singing a similarly joyous tune. "It is the victory of the indigenous people of the Northeast, who came together in protest," said Y Dilip Kumar, who was leading protests in Manipur.
But the people remain wary of the BJP, a sentiment that gives the Congress a chance to reinvent itself in the region. The ruling party, for its part, hopes to make the most of the short breather it has received from the anti-citizenship bill protests.
The National People's Party, the BJP's key partner in the Northeast, feels a crisis has been averted. Party leaders said they would have had no option but to walk out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance if the bill was passed. "Everybody from political parties to civil society groups stood together to oppose the bill. Today, the sentiments and the voice of the northeastern people have prevailed," said Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who led the regional parties' joint platform against the bill.
"Here, the message for politicians is that they should not forget that they are for the people, of the people and by the people," said Zubeen Garg, noted Assamese singer.
(With inputs from PTI)