The citizenship bill does not require any changes if Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is implemented properly, says Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal about the proposed legislation which the top BJP leadership has vowed to bring back if voted back to power.
In an interview to PTI, the student leader-turned politician said the bill will be brought after arriving at a consensus with all stakeholders. "It (amending the Act) is not a new thing as amendments were taken up nine times before this also.
This is a continuous process since 1950," he said, adding the BJP will ensure constitutional safeguards to Northeast's political, cultural, social and linguistic identity. When asked if the Assam government will request the Centre to make necessary changes in the existing bill to allay apprehensions of the people here, Sonowal said that is not needed if the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is implemented properly.
The Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985 after the Assam Agitation of 1979-85, envisages that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, should be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the people of Assam.
"If Clause 6 is implemented in letter and spirit, then the indigenous people of Assam are well guarded and protected. That was the agenda ought to be taken up on priority by earlier governments, but it was never seriously considered,” Sonowal said.
"Now the prime minister has taken up the matter with sincerity, commitment and dedication.
So, I believe once it is implemented, we have nothing to worry. If Clause 6 is implemented, we have no issue with the citizenship bill, even if it comes in the current form,” he added. Several groups and parties have opposed the bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8 but was not tabled in Rajya Sabha and seeks to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of residence in India even if they do not possess any document.
Interestingly, though the BJP top brass has been talking about the citizenship bill in poll rallies, the state leaders have not raised the issue in their meetings and speeches. State minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier said that the citizenship bill was a non-issue in the state and the people are more concerned about national issues.
Sonowal also took a dig at the proposed 'mahagathbandhan' of opposition parties saying the ambitious grouping is dreaming of dethroning Prime Minister Narendra Modi but will "collapse soon" as it does not have any policy on patriotism, integration and service to the nation. He claimed the constituents of this 'grand alliance' are together during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections only for their vested interests. "They do not have any policy of integration, service to nation and patriotism.
The 'mahagathbandhan' is mainly just to get power. They are all with vested interest," he said. The members usually stay different, but sometimes they come on the same platform but with different self interests, he added. "So, there is no national interest in it. I have not seen any national interest within themselves. That is why, I firmly believe that it will collapse soon," he asserted.
Sonowal was once president of the influential All Assam Students' Union (AASU), which has been at the forefront of the protests against the citizenship bill across the Northeast in the past several months. When told out that the concerns raised by people of Assam and the Northeast were not taken into account while drafting the bill, he disagreed and said the Clause 6 has been taken at the highest level for the first time in the history.
"It is Modi ji who has taken it up and ultimately constituted a high-level committee by the Union Cabinet comprising only Assamese people from different fields. It was given very clear terms of references. The committee has been asked to prepare a report on how Constitutional safeguards can be ensured in best possible manner," he added. The existence of the nine-member committee is in a lurch with its fifth member and chairman M P Bezbaruah withdrawing from it in January.
The other four members refused to be a part of it in protest of the Citizenship Bill, are a representative of the AASU, eminent litterateurs Nagen Saikia and Rong Bong Terang along with educationist Mukunda Rajbongshi. On resignation of the eminent personalities from the high-level committee, the chief minister said, "It is because of chaos and unnecessary false propaganda by Congress, Leftists and some section intellectuals and media."
Asked about the BJP's prospects in Assam in this Lok Sabha elections, Sonowal claimed the saffron party along with its allies AGP and BPF will bag at least 12 seats out of 14 in the state. In 2014, the BJP won seven out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, the Congress and the AIUDF had three MPs each and one member was an Independent. The two BJP allies, BPF and AGP, had no representation in the Lower House of Parliament.
Sonowal strongly refuted allegation of Modi failing to fulfill the promises made in 2014 elections, especially on deporting the illegal infiltrators from Assam, and claimed that update work of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and steps to implement the Assam Accord are being done to accomplish the task.