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Celebrations in northeast as parliament adjourned without passing citizenship bill

Celebrations in northeast as parliament adjourned without passing citizenship bill
Celebrations erupted across Assam with opponents of the bill bursting crackers, distributing sweets and breaking into frenzied dancing on the streets.

A wave of jubilation swept through Assam and other northeastern states, in ferment for the last few weeks, after the hugely divisive Citizenship Bill could not be tabled in the Rajya Sabha and was destined to die a natural death with the expiry of the term of the current Lok Sabha on June 3. Celebrations erupted across Assam with opponents of the bill bursting crackers, distributing sweets and breaking into frenzied dancing on the streets.

Leaders of the AGP, AASU, KMSS, AJYCP--all antagonists of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, claimed the Centre's failure to pass the legislation in the Rajya Sabha was a victory of democracy and of the people of Assam and the northeast over "communal" forces. "Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sarbananda Sonowal, Himanta Biswa Sarma hai, hai," they chanted, as fireworks reverberated in cities, towns and villages of Assam.

The BJP, which stood isolated on the issue, with even its alliance partners in the northeast raising a banner of revolt, however, put up a brave and belligerent face, with Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma calling the development a "defeat" for Assam, and declaring his party will contest the Lok Sabha elections with "commitment" to the bill. Sarma, who heads the North-East Democratic Alliance, the NDA's version in the region, also declared the alliance will bring the bill once again after winning the Lok Sabha elections with a majority.

The contentious Citizenship (amendment) Bill provided for according Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in India instead of 12 years, which is the norm currently, even if they do not possess any document. It was passed by the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session on January 8 and was awaiting the Rajya Sabha's approval.

Bills introduced in the Rajya Sabha and pending there do not lapse with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. However, legislation introduced in the Lok Sabha but awaiting clearance of the Rajya Sabha expires at the end of the term of the Lower House. As the news of the inevitable expiry of the bill reached Manipur, curfew was lifted in state capital Imphal.

The restive state's capital city was under curfew since Tuesday, but furious protesters were on the streets overnight, clashing with police. Curfew was lifted this afternoon following improvement in the law and order situation, District Magistrate of Imphal West Naorem Praveen Singh said.

Mobile internet services will, however, continue to remain suspended for some more time. Chief Minister N Biren Singh thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for not tabling the bill in the Rajya Sabha and opting for consensus.

"On behalf of the people of Northeast & in particular Manipur, I would like to profusely thank Hon'ble PM @narendramodi Ji, BJP Pres @amitshah Ji and HM @rajnathsingh ji for not tabling the CAB and opting for the consensus-driven approach. We deeply appreciate our affection for NE!", Singh tweeted. Student outfits, socio-cultural organisations and political parties were up in arms against the Centre, claiming to grant citizenship to non-Muslims who came to India up to December 31, 2014, would violate the Assam Accord. Under the accord signed in 1985, all illegal immigrants who came after 1971, irrespective of their religion, were to be deported.

Two BJP chief ministers of the northeast -- Arunachal Pradesh's Pema Khandu and Manipur's Biren Singh -- had also opposed the bill, which the prime minister called an "atonement for the wrong that was done during Partition". Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of the National People's Party, a BJP ally who had threatened to pull out of the NDA if the bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, called it a "great moment" for the people of the northeast.

Sangma had marshalled parties of the region to launch a concerted protest against the legislation. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, a former Assam chief minister who spearheaded the students' agitation that resulted in the signing of the Assam accord, warned the Centre against taking the ordinance route to "impose" the new citizenship law.

"Government of India must take note of it and not impose the bill by bringing an ordinance. Like the government has weapons, the public also has other alternatives," the AGP leader said. His party had walked out of the NDA over the controversial legislation. Another former chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi of the Congress, branded the development a victory of democracy, of the people of the northeastern region and Assam.

"The BJP wanted to destroy the existence, language, culture and heritage of the indigenous people of Assam and the northeast region," he said, insisting the bill violated the Indian Constitution. "They were hoping to get votes in the name of Hindutva. That has been defeated," he said.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, was typically combative on the issue. "The BJP is committed and will forever be committed to the bill. I fully support the bill. BJP will fight (the elections) with this commitment. There is nothing to hide about it," he said.

Sarma, who had once controversially warned that 17 Assembly seats of Assam will "go the Jinnah way" if the bill was not passed, said," Who will save the (Assamese) community? "If we do not have the bill, entire Assam will be ruled by Bangladeshi Muslims in 2021. Then Assam's civilisation, culture and language will be finished forever."

(With inputs from agencies.)

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