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'We will turn into a minority in our own state'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
Last updated on: December 12, 2019 19:45 IST

'Climatically, geographically and linguistically, Assam will be most suitable for them (Bengali-speaking Hindus from Bangladesh).'
'Their numbers (of Bengali-speaking Hindus from Bangladesh) will increase and the numbers of indigenous people of Assam will decrease.'

IMAGE: A charred bus set on fire by protestors during a strike against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati. Photograph: PTI Photo

"We want to protect our history, we want to protect our people from getting overwhelmed by the influx from Bangladesh, that is why the people of Assam are out in the streets," former Assam chief minister and Asom Gana Parishad leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore.

 

Now that the Citizenship Amendment Bill has been passed by Parliament and will soon become a law once the President gives his assent, what will be the consequences of this law on Assam?

This is a Black Law that has destroyed the spirit of the Assam Accord.

India, which till now has been a secular country, will lose its secular character because of the CAB.

Are the people of Assam of the opinion that the BJP is trying to use Constitutional methods to impose a Hindu Rashtra in India?

I don't want to say that, but the aims and objectives of this bill, which after the President's nod will become an Act, will not only hamper the secular character of India, but also destroy the provisions of the Assam Accord.

What are the options before the people of Assam to oppose the implementation of the CAB law?

The people of Assam have all the democratic ways of opposition to make the government of the day rethink the draconian law it has imposed upon us.

We will democratically demonstrate and organise protests with all our strength and try to convince the central government how unjust a law it is for the people of Assam and how it could permanently alter the social fabric and harmony in Assam.

But the central government doesn't seem interested in listening to the genuine concerns of the indigenous people of Assam and is more interested in suppressing the people's voices by using lathis, bullets and paramilitary forces.

But isn't the protest turning violent?

The government is trying to impose paramilitary forces on the people. The army has been deployed, it is doing the flag march at many places.

Impose curfews, restrict our movements, ban the Internet, but they cannot stifle the voices of people and the spirit of the Assam Accord.

The people of Assam will employ democratic ways to protest the implementation of this Black Act.

Do you fear arrests of political leaders like it has happened in Kashmir?

Not until now. But they have started arresting different people (political leaders) from different areas.

How will the CAB law affect the indigenous people of Assam?

If you allow the people (the Hindus) of Bangladesh to enter India and get citizenship of of India in the name of religion, from past experience I can tell you they will migrate en bloc to Assam.

It has happened before when there was no law and it will happen on a large scale now that there is a law that encourages such migration by granting such people the citizenship of India.

Climatically, geographically and linguistically, the state of Assam will be most suitable for them (Bengali-speaking Hindus from geographically adjoining Bangladesh). Their numbers (of Bengali-speaking Hindus from Bangladesh) will increase and the numbers of indigenous people of Assam will decrease.

This will turn the indigenous local people into a minority in their own state and they (the Bengali-speaking Hindus from Bangladesh) will become the majority.

Do you fear the entire 14 million or so Bangladeshi Hindus will migrate to India just because the CAB will become a law soon?

Not India. They will come to Assam.

Why can't Modi and Amit Shah take them to Gujarat? Let them (Modi and Shah) take them (Bengali-speaking Hindus from Bangladesh who might come to India) to Gujarat and settle them. There is a lot of vacant land in Gujarat. Let them be taken there.

Let the Gujarati people accommodate them. Why impose them on Assam?

Why do you fear that all the Hindus who may come from Bangladesh will settle only and only in Assam? The CAB does not say so. They can settle in any part of India, except certain areas in the north east that have been exempted from such migration.

After getting India's citizenship, they will migrate only to Assam.

Do you know the Assam movement? Do you know our history? Do you know the history of how Assam became Assam's official language? Do you know how Assam became a part of India?

The whole of India must know the historical background about how Assam became a part of India.

We lost 850 of our people who became martyrs for the cause of Assam. The people of Assam have huge sentiments attached to their history, language and culture.

During Partition many Indian leaders like (Jawaharlal) Nehru did not want Assam to be annexed to India, but wanted it merged with Pakistan. It was only on the encouragement and assurances from Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose that Assam became a part of India.

During the British Raj in Assam in 1935, they abolished the Assamese language here (in Assam) and (in the 19th century the British abolished Persian and introduced Bengali as the official language of courts and medium of instruction in Assam which the local Assamese people were not comfortable with) imposed the Bengali language (Assamese became the official language of Assam in in 1960 after the passage of the Assam Language Act of 1960) upon the people of Assam.

Have you gone through the pain and humiliation of not being able to use your own language as the official language in your own state? The plan behind the CAB is the abolition of Assamese as the official language of Assam.

It is this history that we want to protect. We want to protect our people from getting overwhelmed by the influx from Bangladesh, that is why the people of Assam are out in the streets along with leaders of the Asom Gana Parishad.

We fear the destruction of our indigenous culture and becoming a minority in our own state.

Many BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah, have been saying this in public as well as in private that the BJP needs the CAB to defeat Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. He (Shah) has been saying different things in different areas (of West Bengal and Assam).

The government of Assam (led by BJP Chief Minister Sarbanand Sonowal) opposed the NRC (the National Register for Citizens), but Delhi (the BJP government at the Centre) supported it because it wants to capture West Bengal=.

When we spoke in June 2018, you had stated that the AGP would break away from the BJP if the CAB became a law. Are you going to do that now?

The BJP is trying to increase its vote share by the CAB. They believe that the Hindu Bengalis who will become citizens of India because of the CAB will vote for them. They (the BJP) will polarise it (the CAB) for political benefit.

Is that the reason that the BJP pushed so hard for passage of the CAB?

The answer may be given to you by either Mr Amit Shah or Mr Narendra Modi.

IMAGE: All Assam Students Union members take out a torchlight rally during a protest against the Citizen (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati. Photograph: PTI Photo

Has the mood of the Assamese people right now gone anti-BJP?

I don't know, but you can see the mood of the people of Assam who are protesting in the streets right now. They are out in the streets because of this law.

Whoever stays chief minister of Assam, the interests of the people of Assam must be uppermost for the people in power.

Now that the CAB will soon become an Act, how do you think the people of Assam will protect their interests which they fear will be jeopardised because of the CAB?

When the democratic and Constitutional norms are violated by the government using their executive powers, the people can always go to the courts and that's why many people have decided to challenge the Constitutional validity of the CAB in the Supreme Court.

People will have to resort to civil disobedience and that will be very unfortunate. They (the central government) don't want to respect the sentiments of the local people and pass a law that will be opposed in Assam till the time it remains in force.

Perhaps, the BJP thinks now that India is Nathuram Godse land and not Mahatma Gandhi land.

What will be your message to the prime minister and the home minister who have played a lead role in the passage of this bill?

If they are the prime minister and home minister of the entire country, then in the interest of the people of the country they should withdraw the CAB. I doubt if they have the courage to do that though.

How long will the protests continue in the state?

The people have hit the streets spontaneously; nobody has taken the leadership role yet. This is all happening spontaneously. Students too have joined in the protests. It will all depend upon how long the government will take to withdraw this Black Act.

Instead of holding a dialogue with the people they have decided to reply with lathis and bullets. This is no democratic way of treating the people who are protesting against an unjust law.

But the people of Assam will abide by the Constitution of India and fight against atrocious central government policies using democratic and non-violent means.


Prasanna D Zore covers national affairs for Rediff.com
Prasanna spoke to Prafulla Kumar Mahanta about the Citizenship Bill last year where the former Assam chief minister declared ''Modi is playing vote bank politics with citizenship bill'
Prasanna can be reached at prasannaz@rediff.co.in

PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
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