Protests erupted across the North East on Monday against the Narendra Modi-led government’s decision to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill during the Winter Session of Parliament. The government has listed the Bill in its items of business for the session.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also lashed out at the Centre during an event in Cooch Behar district, saying the Bill was a trap.

The Bill seeks to amend a 1955 law to grant citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the Muslim-majority nations of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan if they have lived in India for six years. Opposition parties have criticised it for deliberately omitting Muslims. The previous Lok Sabha had passed the legislation but it was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha. As a result, it lapsed after the term of the Lower House ended in May. The government did not introduce it in the Budget Session.

On Monday, the All Assam Students’ Union and the North East Students’ Organisation marched to the Raj Bhavan in Guwahati, shouting slogans, and waving banners and placards. They submitted a memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The organisations also burnt the effigies of Modi and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

“Assam and the North East are not dumping grounds for illegal Bangladeshis,” said Samujjal Bhattacharyya, chief advisor of the All Assam Students Union. “As per the Assam Accord we have already accepted all Bangladeshis both Hindu and Muslims who entered Assam illegally upto 1971. We will not accept those who entered Assam after that year.”

He accused the Centre of attempting to impose on the state “all the illegal Bangladeshis who entered the country in the next 43 years by fixing the cut off year as 2014”. “We won’t accept that,” added Bhattacharya. “We oppose it. This movement in Assam and the North East region will continue.”

The student leader claimed the Bill would only serve to safeguard the Bharatiya Janata Party’s vote bank. “They [BJP] want the votes of illegal Bangladeshis,” he said. “They have the numbers in Delhi [Parliament] and they will impose the CAB on us.”

AASU President Dipanka Nath claimed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would lead to the extinction of Assamese people. “The CAB is the death knell for the Assamese community,” he said. “We will oppose till our death this Bill, which is harmful to the existence of the Assamese community.” He accused the Centre of ignoring said the sentiments of people of the state.

In Meghalaya, the influential Khasi Students Union held a sit-in near the third secretariat. The union said the Bill would have a negative impact on people in the entire North East. The Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organisations has called for a statewide night road blockade on November 18 and 19 from 7 pm to 6 am.

Last week, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had met Amit Shah and urged the Centre to withhold the Bill in its current form.

Organisations such as the Tripura Students’ Federation, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, the Naga Students’ Federation and the Mizo Zirlai Pawl also took out rallies on Monday.

‘A trap like the NRC,’ says Mamata Banerjee

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee said the Bill was “just another trap like the NRC”. “It is a trap to exclude Bengalis and Hindus from the list of legal citizens and make them refugees in their own countries,” added the Trinamool Congress president.

Banerjee is a vocal critic of the NRC exercise and has reiterated often that her party would never allow it to be implemented in West Bengal.

“After our government came to power we had taken steps to grant citizenship to refugees of enclaves in Cooch Behar district,” added the chief minister. “But we had never imposed any condition that they have to be in this country for six years.”

The NRC exercise in Assam caused a lot of chaos. More than 19 lakh people were left out of the final list that was published on August 31. They now have the chance to file appeals in foreigners’ tribunals.

Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is considered the BJP’s point-man for the North East, has said the Bill will be introduced within the first two days of the Winter Session, and will not impact the interests of the state’s indigenous people.

The introduction of the legislation assumes significance as Amit Shah has promised to replicate the National Register of Citizens exercise across India after passing the Citizenship Bill.

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