Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Friday said a wrong narrative on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) by certain destructive elements made Assam suffer violence and arson that claimed six lives last week.
A propaganda that the CAA would grant citizenship to 1.5 crore Hindus currently residing in Bangladesh, and Indian Muslims would be driven out led to the unrest in the peace-loving Assam, he told newspersons soon after mobile Internet services were restored after nine days of suspension across the State.
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“A section has misguided the people by claiming that the CAA will make 1.5 crore Hindus of Bangladesh eligible for citizenship. Reality is, very few people already living in Assam for decades will get citizenship because of this Act and it will become clear when we publish the list after their applications are processed,” Mr. Sonowal said at his official residence near the Raj Bhavan.
Assam Finance and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had claimed the Act would benefit at most 5.2 lakh Hindu Bangladeshis left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published on August 31. A majority of the total 19.6 lakh people excluded from the NRC is believed to be Muslims who migrated from present day Bangladesh.
“I assure the people of Assam that our government will not take any step that goes against the indigenous Assamese people. There is no point of being the Chief Minister if I cannot protect the interests of the very people who elected us. Assam was, is and will be for the Assamese people and no force can threaten our language, culture and existence,” Mr. Sonowal said.
The Chief Minister, unusually aggressive, said the government would take action against all those who instigated violence and arson during the anti-CAA protests. He asked people to desist from threatening and attacking BJP leaders and workers.
“While appreciating the people for democratic, peaceful protests, we want to make it clear that violence in any form would not be tolerated. Many establishments from circle offices to banks have been destroyed and the houses of our MLAs and workers attacked, damaged or set afire,” he said.
Action against those who indulged in violence would be taken according to the findings of the special investigation team set up to probe the incidents, he added.
Talks with protesters
Mr. Sonowal said his government had started the process of inviting leaders of the anti-CAA protests for discussion. “Everything can be sorted out through talks, and I have asked the Chief Secretary to set the stage.”
The State government had been pushing the Centre for implementing Clause 6 of the Assam Accord (1985) that guaranteed constitutional safeguards for the indigenous people of the State. “A 14-member committee for implementing this clause is expected to submit its report within a month. Things will move as soon as the committee does its job,” Mr. Sonowal said, reminding that the panel had three leaders of the All Assam Students’ Union that had been spearheading the anti-CAA protests.
The Chief Minister, some of his Cabinet colleagues and BJP legislators later left for Nalbari in western Assam to take part in a 3-km peace rally, the first of such aimed at “removing misconceptions” about the Citizenship Act.
Social media watch
The Gauhati High Court on Friday rejected the State government's plea for reimposing the temporary ban on mobile Internet services for the sake of security. On Thursday, it ordered the government to restore the services suspended since December 12.
The police subsequently announced a WhatsApp number asking people to post screenshots of provocative or objectionable contents posted on social media platforms.
“We are monitoring the social media for abusive posts and will not hesitate to take action against people spewing venom. A few cases have already been registered,” a police spokesperson said.