Citizenship and Sedition: BJP's Communal And Repressive Agenda

THE Modi Government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill strikes at the very heart of the Indian Republic and seeks to change its fundamental basis, in the direction of the Sangh's notion of a Hindu Nation. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and awaits being put to a vote in the Rajya Sabha.  

It seeks to introduce a distinction among refugees on the basis of their religious affiliation and identity. According to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, non-Muslim refugees coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan without valid travel documents would not be treated as illegal migrants and would be allowed to apply for Indian Citizenship on easier terms than are currently prescribed for persons seeking the status of naturalised Indian citizens. This is nothing but a backdoor entry for Hindu Rashtra by defining citizenship on a religious basis and sanctifying the hounding of Muslim immigrants as infiltrators and a 'threat to security’. It is a direct attack on India’s Constitution and is a blatant attempt by the Modi Government in its final months to move India towards a Hindu Rashtra.

The BJP is busy labelling opposition to this Bill as ‘sedition’: Assam police booked eminent public intellectual Hiren Gohain, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti leader Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta on charges of sedition for opposing the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

The Bill is facing fierce protests in the states of the North East and especially Assam where it clearly violates the terms of the Assam accord. The BJP, which has single-handedly lighted this fire, is now seeking to blame the flames on the people of Assam and crackdown on the freedom of speech and expression.

Now, the BJP and the Modi Government are trying to tweak the Bill so that it can straddle different constituencies in different states. The Ministry of Home Affairs has said foreigners would not be granted Indian citizenship without the consent of state governments concerned. This means that the law will allow “Hindu migrants” from Bangladesh to acquire citizenship and settle in Bengal (where the BJP hopes the law can help it consolidate Hindu votes) while appeasing anger in the NE states by allowing governments there the leverage to deny consent. The MHA also said that the government is considering a proposal to “provide incentives to those people who want to settle anywhere in India, except the North East”. Such measures, aimed at giving the impression of accommodating the demographic concerns of the NE states, leave the basic communal and Islamophobic premise of the Bill intact.

Meanwhile, the BJP is busy trying to subvert Assam’s culture and heritage even as it claims it will protect the same. January 17, marking the death anniversary of Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, one of the most iconic cultural figures of Assam is observed as Silpi Divas (artists’ day) in the state. This year the chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal of BJP made Silpi Divas his platform to push for support for the Citizenship Amendment Bill which went against all that Agarwala stood for! Sonowal said,“Emotions do not always help in forging a strong society. I urge the people to use their rational bent of mind and analyse the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill thoroughly.”

This is rich, coming from the BJP - which always makes it a point to reject rationality and appeal to the worst instincts in every Indian. The Citizenship Amendment Bill itself is an appeal to stoke xenophobic and communal emotions for votes.

But the CM’s choice of Silpi Divas to make a pitch for a divisive communal bill is especially jarring. One of Agarwala’s most popular poems, ‘Axomiya Dekar Ukti’ (The Response of an Assamese youth), is a celebration of “the composite Assamese identity and its assimilative nature.” (Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, The Wire) That poem reads:

I am the Khasi, I am the Jaintia, the Dophola, Abor, Oka
I am the Singpho, the Miri of the plains, the youth of the Subansiri
I will be the victor, I am of the Kachari, the Koch, the Mech, the Rajbonghshi, Rabha…
I am the Lalung, Sutia, Lushai, Mikir, Garo
Mishimi, Khamti, the Angami hero…
I fight for equality and friendship
I am the one who labours in the tea garden,
The Na-Axomiya, the new Assamese,
The Mymensinghia…
The village Nepali,
The skilled dancer of the Manipuri
Of so many hills and plains, of the waters of a hundred streams
I flow, taking all in my path
To be one with the Brahmaputra
 
As Pisharoty points out, this poem uses the terms ‘Na Asamiya’ (neo-Assamese) “to expand the canopy of Assamese identity to include the ‘Mymensinghia’, the term commonly used for the Muslim migrants from East Bengal.”

Student and youth organisations, trade unions and civil society members held a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar on 14th January demanding the withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the sedition charges against Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi, Manjit Mahanta and others. Organisations like AISA, RYA, AIPF, AICCTU, United Against Hate, CPIM- ML and other individuals participated in the protest. Niraj Kumar, General Secretary of Revolutionary Youth Association conducted the proceedings.

Delhi AISA President, Kawalpreet Kaur speaking at the protest said, 'The citizenship amendment is a major blow to the secular fabric of our country. It makes religion the basis of citizenship in our country. This is a clear violation of our secular constitution.'

Kiran Shaheen, senior journalist and member of All India Peoples Forum said, 'Hiren Gohain, Akhil Gogoi are well known activists and scholars, it is absolutely shameful that the BJP Govt has framed sedition charges on them for speaking out against the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The issue is not only about Assam or the North East but affects the whole country as it is intends to change the whole basis of Citizenship.'

CPI ML Delhi State Secretary, Ravi Rai said, 'The BJP has made its intention clear by passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill. By making religion the basis of citizenship and excluding Muslims from it the bill is an attempt to legalise a Hindu Rashtra. Today, Assam is burning but the Govt at the centre doesn't care about what is happening there and are arresting activists who are opposing the Bill. We will ensure that the BJP will face protests across the country and we will not allow communal polarisation to divert the attention of the people from the failure of the Modi Govt. We demand that the Amendment is withdrawn and the sedition charges are withdrawn.'