The Assam bandh of October 23, called by as many as 46 organizations against the Centre's bid to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, impacted on the lives of people, with shops downing their shutters and roads virtually empty. Movement of people was hurt, especially when movement had started to gather momentum after the Durga Puja festivity. Business was affected, and the adverse effect of any strike called by any organization on the flow and conduct of business must be an issue of gargantuan proportion in a State like Assam even for a day, given the State's state of economy and its long and debilitating tryst with no-business, no-work culture. However, there is a deeper perspective to the bandh that was, which had the support of indigenous groups gripped by the fear of demographic deluge. After all, one cannot be oblivious of the invasion of the State's economic and demographic space by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh along with the flow of terror organizations from the neighbouring country drunk with Islamist fanaticism and nourishing at their absolutist best a desire to make the State their living and breeding space by reducing the sons of the soil into a persecuted minority. Let us call a spade a spade.
But what is more worrying is what the Bill in question seeks to achieve: settlement of post-March 24, 1971 Hindu Bangladeshis in India, who are illegal immigrants, even as the Bill broadly favours the settlement of other religious minorities such as Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis not just from Bangladesh but from Pakistan and Afghanistan as well, the three countries where these religious minorities have been allegedly persecuted on religious grounds. The issue that bothers us here in Assam, as also in the rest of the Northeast, is that of the fear of the ethnic groups stemming from a proven record of their marginalization due to illegal influx from Bangladesh – a fear which is deep and valid, a fear that has only increased by the day despite the ruling BJP's pompous promise of a videshi-mukt rajya. No one believes the promise today, given that if the Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh are an electoral treasure for 'secular' political outfits such as the Congress that had earned notoriety for its imposition on Assam, and on Assam alone, of an unconstitutional and anti-national immigration regime like the now-scrapped IM(DT) Act, then the BJP too has discovered a sustainable vote bank in the Hindu immigrants from the neighbouring country. And, very sadly, it does not seem to matter at all even if the Bill violates the very spirit of the Assam Accord, including the question of constitutional safeguards to the natives of the land even as who is "indigenous" – in accordance with the Assam Accord – is yet to defined.
Let it be iterated here that this newspaper has never supported any bandh, given the enormous hardship that commoners face as well as the illegality angle that the judiciary of the country has rightly harped on (the Gauhati High Court, in 2013, had ruled that bandhs would be illegal). Nonetheless, what is deeply worrying is that as many as 46 organizations should be forced to come on a common platform crying for relief from the torture of demographic invasion by illegal immigrants, Muslim or Hindu, along with cultural invasion, in their very land of birth because the politics of the day, regardless of which political party says what, has long entailed the pampering and mollycoddling of illegal immigrants merely for cheap electoral gains without any concern for the people whose land this is and whose land this must remain – the sons of the soil. It is these natives who must rate the first priority. The issue is very, very serious.