Thousands of people hit the streets in Assam opposing the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB, that seeks to grant Indian citizenship to illegal non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday and will become law after getting nod from the President. However, people of north eastern states, especially Assam and Tripura are demanding its revocation as they fear being "overrun" by non-Muslims from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The protesters clashed with the police and set afire several government vehicles. It is being said that the magnitude of the protests is the same as the violent six-year movement that resulted in the signing of the Assam accord in 1985. The protesters attacked the house of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. They also pelted stones at the houses of several BJP leaders. The house of Union minister Rameswar Teli in Assam's Duliajan was also attacked by the anti-CAB protesters.
Earlier on Wednesday, CM Sonowal was stranded at the Guwahati airport for several hours as the protesters blocked the airport road. He, however, was taken out safely to his official residence by his security guards. As the protests spread across the state, the Army has been deployed in Guwahati, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Jorhat districts in Assam. An indefinite curfew has been imposed in Guwahati and internet services has been suspended in 10 districts of Assam in a bid to curb communication between the protesters.
A railway station in Dibrugarh’s Chabua, the hometown of the chief minister, was set on fire by protestors late in the night. The Panitola railway station in Tinsukia district was also torched, a Northeast Frontier Railway spokesperson said. Some student leaders, who went live on national TV, claimed many agitators were injured in police action in front of the secretariat.
Internet services are already suspended in the entire state of Tripura for 48 hours from 2 pm on Tuesday to thwart attempts by mischief mongers to disturb peace. An order issued by the Tripura government also prohibits SMSes on the networks of all mobile service providers. The Congress party has, meanwhile, called a shutdown in Tripura on Thursday.
Similar protests had erupted when the Narendra Modi government tried to table the bill in the upper house ahead of general elections earlier this year. The bill was passed by the upper house of Parliament with 125 ayes against 99 nos. Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that passage of the Citizenship Bill marks a "dark day" in constitutional history of India. She said that it was a "victory of narrow minded and bigoted forces" over the India’s pluralism.
The bill is seen linked to the Assam NRC, which in August saw two million residents left off a citizens' register. A majority of those who were left out of the bill were Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. Since non-Muslim migrants are considered the base voters of the BJP in Assam, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will protect them from the the threat of internment after being excluded from the NRC.