The prime minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government's decision to bring modifications to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1955 to make it easier for Bangladeshi Hindus to get Indian citizenship has triggered a sharp division of opinion on linguistic lines in Assam's predominately Assamese-speaking Brahmaputra Valley and largely Bengali-speaking Barak Valley.
A key amendment in the Bill seeks to grant citizenship to people without valid documents from six minority communities - Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians - from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India. Sonowal's image as "jatiya nayak" (national hero) - bestowed upon him by the people of the state after the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act in 2005 after Sonowal filed a petition against it - has taken a beating over the past few days.
"Even without passing of the Bill, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are crossing over to the region be it Assam, Tripura or any other state", he said while maintaining that the North East region can not take the burden of Bangladeshis anymore since the region took the entire load of Bangladeshis fleeing their country during their liberation war.
However, supporters of Citizenship Bill in Barak Valley opine that the Accord does not do justice to the many people persecuted during the Bangladesh liberation war.
"North East is not the dumping ground for illegal Bangladeshis and the Bill is a threat to the identify of our indigenous people", he said while making it clear that the region can not take the load of Bangladeshis beyond 1971 be it Hindu or Muslim Bangladeshis. "I appeal all to maintain peace so that unwanted situations do not develop in the state", he said. "The people should, however, continue to express their opinion and speak their mind to the JPC chairman through e-mail", he said.
The 16-member JPC was formed in August 2016 under the headship of BJP MP Satyapal Singh to hear views of various stakeholders after severe opposition in Assam following the tabling of the Bill in Lok Sabha in July 2016. As per the Accord, the immigrants, irrespective of faith who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, will be detected and deported.More news: Chili's announces breach in systems
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In 2015 and 2016, the government issued two notifications exempting certain groups of illegal migrants from provisions of the 1920 and the 19246 Acts.
"This time, people have been given top priority", he said.
The JPC's three-day hearing in Assam since Monday saw the State being divided on the issue.
A human chain carrying placards also supported the Bill, while politicians of both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress supported it even as their respective parties opposed it in the Brahmaputra valley.
Without taking names, he pilloried some intellectuals with Left lineage saying those who had been critical of the anti-foreigners' agitation of early 1980s are now leading the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.