A group of Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs called on Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Thursday to allay the fears and concerns of protestors. This came on a day massive demonstrations were held across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“We urged him to take steps for the protection of the land, language and culture of the Assamese,” the MLA from Sootea in Assam, Padma Hazarika, told journalists after the group of about 12 leaders met Sonowal, The New Indian Express reported. “The CAA is now sub-judice. We said whatever order the Supreme Court passes, we will welcome it. The Assamese people are worried due to propaganda on the CAA.”
The MLAs told Sonowal that they could not go back to their constituencies because of the public anger and protests, and were stranded in Guwahati.
The Citizenship Amendment Act seeks to provide citizenship to people from six persecuted minority communities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – but excludes Muslims from its scope. The law, passed by Parliament on December 11, has been decried as anti-Muslim. Protestors in the northeastern states have alleged that it will erode their distinct ethnic identities.
Guwahati was the initial epicentre of the protests but they have since spread out to the rest of the country. On Thursday, at least two deaths were reported from Mangaluru in Karnataka, and one from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh as the police and protestors clashed. Thousands of protestors were detained across the country throughout the day. Rallies were held in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Lucknow, Ahmedabad and many other cities.
“We urged him to take some strong steps to protect the Assamese and give them constitutional safeguards,” Hazarika said after the meeting. He added that the MLAs sought the urgent implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, the agreement that Assamese nationalists signed in 1985 with the Centre. It brought to an end a six-year-long, often violent, anti-immigrant movement, that was sparked by anxieties over fresh migration into Assam in the aftermath of the Bangladesh War of 1971.
Using the war as the cut-off, the Accord defined anyone who came before the midnight of March 24, 1971 as an Indian citizen in Assam. Clause 6 of the agreement promised “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. But it did not define “Assamese people”.
“We urged the CM to go to Delhi along with (Finance Minister) Himanta Biswa Sarma and meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah to resolve the issue,” another MLA, Prasanta Phukan from Dibrugarh, said. “We are equally worried as we cannot go home.”
Phukan’s home was vandalised by alleged protestors last week. “I can replace the broken glasses of my house and car but what pains me is the way youngsters abused me during the protests,” Phukan told The Indian Express. “The non-violent movement is fine, but people with malafide intention entered the protests and burnt tyres and caused violence.”
Phukan added: “If you talk from a vote angle, I will say there has been some ‘minus’, some loss. Say a 40-45 per cent loss due to the agitation — not the votes of the other linguistic communities but a considerable loss of the the votes of the Assamese-speaking population. I will try my best to recover it.”