Protests broke out in several places in Assam, with agitators stripping themselves in public in Tinsukia, over a recent comment by Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Citizenship Bill even as the Centre is planning to present the proposed legislation in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
While talking to media on Sunday, Sarma had said that if the Citizenship Bill is not passed "we will be surrendering to Jinnah's policy".
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and entered India before December 31, 2014.
"Without that bill, we are surrendering to the philosophy of Jinnah. If those people are not there, the Sarbhog seat will go to Jinnah. Do we want that? This is a fight between Jinnah's legacy and India's legacy, Sarma had told reporters while addressing a press conference on Sunday. BJP state president Ranjit Dass represents the Sarbhog assembly seat.
"So, let the bill be passed and we will see if there is a provision of welcoming Bangladeshis in it. And, I am sure that is not there," he said.
The minister said if we delete six lakh people from the voters list, the demography will change and "you will not retain Assam."
"Today, if we do not have Citizenship Bill, 17 seats that elect Assamese people will go the Jinaah way...I am meaning Jinnah, I am not meaning any community," Sarma had said.
The AASU and KMSS leadership have termed Sarma's comments as an attempt to polarise the Assamese society ahead of the elections. Protesters, led by organisations, observed 'Black Day' and carried black flags and burnt replicas of the bill across the state. In New Delhi a group staged a nude protest in front of Parliament Complex.
Another group staged a nude protest in Assam's Tinsukia town as well against the minister's remarks. They also burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The Left Democratic Mancha, a common platform of Left and democratic parties, organised a protest meeting. They took out a procession to Kamrup Metropolitan Deputy Commissioner's office here.
Several indigenous organisations in the state have been opposing the bill as they believe it would harm their cultural identity.
Meanwhile, the Union Cabinet on Monday cleared the redrafted Citizenship Amendment Bill. A meeting of the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the bill and it is expected to be tabled in Lok Sabha Tuesday, an official privy to the development said.
The move came within hours of the presentation in Lok Sabha of a report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee examining the bill that was first introduced in Parliament in 2016.
Large sections of people in Assam and other northeastern states have been protesting against the bill, saying it would nullify the 1985 Assam Accord under which any foreign national, irrespective of religion, who had entered the state after 1971 should be deported.
The fresh bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities -- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don't possess any proper document.
This was an election promise of the BJP in 2014.
The JPC report was prepared with a majority vote as opposition members have opposed the move to grant citizenship on the basis of religion saying it is against the Constitution.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI-M and a few other parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill claiming that citizenship can't be given on the basis of religion as India is a secular nation.
Some opposition members have even given dissent notes in the report.
Meanwhile in the state, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has withdrawn its support to ruling BJP in Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, AGP president and minister Atul Bora said. The decision followed an AGP delegation's meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi, who asserted that the government will ensure its passage in Lok Sabha Tuesday, Bora said.
"We made a last ditch attempt today to convince the Centre not to pass the Bill. But Singh told us clearly that it will be passed in Lok Sabha tomorrow. After this, there is no question of remaining in the alliance," Bora said in New Delhi after meeting the home minister.
Interestingly, BJP's ally Shiv Sena and JD-U have announced that they would oppose the bill in Parliament.
(With inputs from PTI)