Protests Over Citizenship Amendment Bill Won't Mar 2019 Prospects: BJP Strategist

The Citizenship Amendment Bill has come in the context of India, it is not an Assam-specific bill, Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV

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Students in Guwahati shaved their heads in protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill

Guwahati:  Protests in Assam over a proposed central law to give citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to religious minorities from three Muslim-majority countries in India's neighbourhood won't affect the BJP's prospects in the 2019 general elections, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the party's key strategist for the Northeast, has told NDTV.

There has been a series of protests in Assam and neighbouring Meghalaya over the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 that allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan to be eligible for Indian citizenship after a stay of six years in India --- an election promise made by the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

Two years later, in the run-up to the assembly elections in Assam that the BJP won for the first time, the party had pledged to deport illegal migrants from Bangladesh and to protect the rights of the indigenous people of the state.

"The BJP fought the election in Assam to protect Indian people with a special reference to Assam's own culture and identity. The Citizenship Amendment Bill has come in the context of India, it is not an Assam-specific bill," said Mr Biswa Sarma.

Illegal migration from Bangladesh is a huge issue that sparked violent protests in the state in the early 80s after which the Assam Accord was signed in 1985 that says all foreigners who entered the state after March 24, 1971 would be deported.

The Bill that is now with a joint parliamentary committee proposes to advance the cut-off date for identifying illegal migrants to December 31, 2014.

A mammoth exercise in currently under way to document legal citizens to document legal citizens living in Assam. The National Register of Citizens --- which being updated for the first time since 1951 when it was first published --- is due to be out by June 30 this year --- a date set by the Supreme Court.

For now, the BJP seems to be adopting a wait-and-watch approach.

"Assam definitely has certain issues that need to be resolved in a proper way. We have requested people to wait till NRC comes out. How much we are affected will only be clear when we see the final NRC, Mr Biswa Sarma told NDTV.

After protests in Meghalaya where a BJP ally is in power, the state government has opposed the proposed law.
 
himanta biswa sarma

Request people to wait till National Register of Citizens is out, said Mr Biswa Sarma

"In Meghalaya, there is no NRC updation, In Assam, NRC is taking place so both state governments are bound to react to the citizenship bill differently," said Mr Biswa Sarma, Assam's finance minister.

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Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has so far made no explicit remarks on the issue. Earlier this week, he re-tweeted saying his government will give "preference to the interest of its people".Claiming that the citizenship bill has nothing to do with the 2019 polls, Mr Biswa Sarma said the BJP would reach out to people and win "10 to 11" of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam.

"There are some people who want to distort things. Elections are fought on the development plank and, in my political understanding, the BJP stands unaffected," he said.

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