Revival of the movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 in Assam by the All Assam Students Union, Krishak Mutki Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and other organisations in the midst of rising COVID-19 infections signals the return of the political issue to the centrestage ahead of 2021 Assembly polls in the State. There areindications that the revived anti-CAA stir will lead to significantpolitical mobilisations of forces around it and shaping of new political narratives in electoral politics in the State. It is, however, too early to conclude that the issue is going to become a deciding factor. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling coalition, revival of the movement is not going to pose a tough electoral challenge if the movement groups continue to remain divided in different political camps. The agitatorsargue that granting of Indian citizenship under CAA to post 1971 Hindu and other non-Muslim "illegal migrants" from Bangladesh will pose existential threat to identity, culture, and heritage of Assamese and other indigenous communities. The ruling coalition pushed an articulated response that implementation of the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord will guarantee a set of constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect and preserve linguistic identity, culture and heritage of the indigenous people and therefore they should not be worried over implantation of CAA. With the revival of the anti-CAA stir, the pressure will be mounting on the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government in the State to make public the status of the report submitted by the High-Level Committee on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The committee headed by Justice (retired) Biplab Kumar Sarma handed over the report to Chief Minister Sonowal on February 25, nearly a month ahead the nation-wide lockdown was clamped in a bidto flatten the COVID-19 pandemic curve. The suspension of the anti-CAA stirs due to the lockdown and spread of the COVID-19 infection came as a breather for the Sonowal government. The State Government should respond to the allegations levelled by members of the committee that the report has been gathering dust at Dispur and is yet to be submitted to the Central government even as more than five months have elapsed since it was handed over to Sonowal. Lack of transparency erodes the faith of the public in the system which is unwarranted in a democracy. An elected government must honour its commitment. It was the Central government which constituted the committee on Clause 6 and gave a commitment on the floor of the parliament that recommendations of the committee would be implemented in toto. Both the Central and the State governments must keep in the mind that the apprehension of Assamese and other indigenous communities that CAA would cause irreversible demographic change is genuine and cannot be wished away. Failures of the successive governments to honour their commitments to implement the Assam Accord in toto to put an end to unabated influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has precipitated the apprehension. Electorates of the State were therefore convinced by the Jati, Mati, Bheti slogans of the BJP-led coalition and pledged overwhelming support in 2016 Assembly polls with the hope that the foreigners' issue would be settled permanently. The State government must draw lessons from the situations during the previous phase of anti-CAA stir. It must remain vigilant against anyone indulging in violence during the revived stir so that peaceful and democratic atmosphere in the State is not vitiated. A political issue merits a political response. Any attempt to replace the political response with a response purely from the law-and-order perspective is counter productive and often leads to escalation in the situation.
Movement groups should also rethink about the modus operandi of their protests and agitations and should not put their followers and supporters to the risk of being infected by COVID-19 virus. A rise in infection will worsen the pandemic situation and will create both health hazards and lead to spiralling of the economic crisis grappling the people ever since the lockdown. The right to protest peacefully and democratically must be exercised with much cautionand responsibility. The situation demands adoption of innovative strategy by the movement groups instead of resorting to conventional mode of protests on the streets where maintenance of the physical distance and wearing of facemasks forpreventing spread of infection are difficult to ensure. The State government must play a pro-active role in facilitating discussion between the Central government and the movement groups to break the ice. However, it must keep in mind that the decision to exclude certain movement groups like the KMSS from the consultation process in the past and indulging in selective crackdown against them was ill-advised. An elected government is duty-bound to adopt an all-inclusive approach in matters of public interest and any clash of political ideologies should not influence it.