Protesters in northeast India claimed victory yesterday after a bill that the government says will help Hindus in neighbouring countries settle in India lapsed before it could be ratified by parliament.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill is aimed at helping Hindus and members of other non-Muslim minority communities in neighbouring Muslim countries move to India.
But critics say the legislation is as an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) burnish its Hindu-nationalist credentials ahead of a general election, that must be held by May.
The bill had incited exceptional opposition in remote, ethnically diverse northeastern states where for years residents have complained that migrants from Bangladesh are a burden on society.
For days, protesters have taken to the streets, bringing chaos to several cities in the region.
Authorities have responded with curfews and blocks on broadcasters in an attempt to quell the unrest.
The Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, passed the bill last month but it was not ratified by the upper house Rajya Sabha before the end of its last session before the election, yesterday.
Activists in the northeast welcomed parliament’s failure to push the legislation through.
“This is a moral victory for the people of the northeast with the BJP forced to bow down to the voices of struggle,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, a leader of the All Assam Students’ Union, one of the protesting groups, said.
Members of the Assam organisation had threatened to “shed blood” to block the bill.
Members of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), led by former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, along with activists of North East Student’s Organisation (NESO), led by its chairman Samuel Jyrwa, reached the residence of Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma in New Delhi to thank him for his concerted efforts to prevent the bill from being passed in the upper house.
“It is indeed a great and emotional moment for all the citizens of the northeast, as well as the country. Even the students’ bodies, civil societies and NGOs stood together to oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Today the sentiments of the people, especially those from the northeast, have prevailed. The voice of the people has prevailed. It is a great moment for each one of us,” an elated Sangma told journalists.
Protests over recent days have also rocked the small state of Manipur, where authorities imposed an indefinite curfew and suspended mobile Internet services for five days late on Tuesday, following violent protests.
Police said people were defying the curfew yesterday.
“It is a victory of the people,” Manipur Chief Minister N Biren who has been camping in Delhi along with representatives of nine political parties to urge central leaders not to pass the contentious bill, said.
Biren said the bill was allowed to lapse as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP chief Amit Shah knew the sentiments of the people.
He also tendered an apology to the people for imposing the curfew to maintain law and order and protect precious lives.
Protests also erupted in Mizoram where some activists have given voice to old separatist aspirations.
In Shillong, capital of Meghalaya, activists of the Khasi Students Union (KSU) took out a victory rally soon after the Rajya Sabha was adjourned without the tabling bill.
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