Parties in the Northeast, including those in alliance with BJP, have been up in arms. People in the region feel the Bill would allow entry of 'outsiders' and threaten the indigenous identity of the region
The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was passed by Lok Sabha on January 8, has put Assam on the boil and may spell trouble for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Northeast.
The Bill seeks to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The BJP has been at the forefront of pushing for this Bill, with Home Minister Rajnath Singh stating that the government would do everything to "preserve Northeast's identity and culture".
"We want a peaceful situation in the Northeast and are in constant touch with the state governments. We will strive to protect the identity and culture of the Northeast and will take steps to address all concerns," Singh had said.
However, parties in the Northeast, including those in alliance with the saffron party, have been up in arms against the Bill. Observers suggest that this is because people in the region feel that the Bill would allow entry of 'outsiders' into the Northeast and thus threaten the indigenous identity of the region.
On January 8, student bodies called for a shutdown in the region in protest against the legislation. A day before the shutdown, Asom Gana Parishad (AGM), a National Democratic Alliance (NDA) member in Assam, pulled out of the alliance after it was told that the Home Ministry would try to pass the Bill in Lok Sabha.
"The home minister clearly told us they will try to get this bill passed... so there’s no question of us staying with the BJP anymore," AGP President Atul Bora had said. The AGP had, in November, threatened to pull out of the alliance over the issue.
Other NDA allies in the Northeast, like Meghalaya's National People's Party (NPP), fired a warning salvo when Chief Minister and party president Conrad Sangma termed the passing of the Bill as "unfortunate".
"Well, it is very unfortunate that this Bill has been passed as this is something which we have opposed vehemently," Sangma had said. The NPP leader has also indicated that the party might snap ties with BJP over the issue.
The NPP is based out of Meghalaya but has a presence across the region. Four of its MLAs are part of the BJP-led government in Manipur.
Meanwhile, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which is in alliance with BJP in the state, has also expressed its opposition to the Bill. According to a report by The Indian Express, the IPFT has asked the central government to "reconsider" the Bill, while the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) said it would be launching a movement against the Bill shortly.
The Mizo National Front (MNF) of Mizoram, which swept to power in the state recently, has also raised opposition to the Bill. The MNF is part of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), though it contested independently during the recent assembly polls.
In Nagaland, the People's Democratic Alliance (PDA) government, of which BJP is a part, also voiced concern regarding the Bill and urged the Centre to re-examine and review it.
Meanwhile, in Manipur, where the BJP has its own chief minister, the government has said it will be holding discussions regarding the Bill and decide upon the matter.
"It is true that the country has a federal structure. However, the Centre cannot impose any policies that are unacceptable to the state government", Chief Minister N Biren Singh said.Experts have noted that the Bill could hurt the BJP's chances in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, both in terms of losing its existing as well as potential allies in the region.