The bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and is expected to come up for a vote in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
In a region where the fear of the ‘outsider’ especially illegal immigrants has been a dominant theme for past many decades, many feel if the bill is passed by Parliament it will lead to a sudden rush of Hindus from Bangladesh, who in turn would pose a threat to the indigenous communities.
Several student bodies and civil society groups have been opposing the bill for months and on Tuesday the region came to a near standstill due to a shutdown called by North East Students Union (NESO) in protest against the legislation.
Despite the strong sentiments on the ground the Bharatiya Janata Party decided to brazen it out and is pushing for passage of the bill barely months ahead of the general elections. That move could affect its aim to bag 21 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the region.
At present the BJP is heading governments in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura and is part of the ruling coalition in Nagaland and Meghalaya. In 2014, the party had won eight seats in the northeast—seven in Assam and one in Arunachal Pradesh.
“Right now the situation in the northeast is volatile. People are annoyed and aggrieved. If this mood continues till the elections, it could percolate down and have some adverse impact on BJP’s fortunes in Assam and the other states of the region,” said Dr Nani Gopal Mahanta, professor of political science in Gauhati University.
The biggest setback could come from Assam where there are 14 Lok Sabha seats. On Monday, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) withdrew its support to the BJP-led government in the state and a former chief minister from the party even dared it to seek a fresh mandate.
“Our party had a pre-poll alliance with the BJP ahead of the 2016 assembly elections. The people voted for the alliance and it came to power. The BJP can’t claim that it won on its own steam. Since we have left the alliance, they should seek a fresh mandate,” said Prafulla Kumar Mahanta.
Meghalaya chief minister and president of National People’s Party (NPP) on Tuesday termed passing the bill in the Lok Sabha as “unfortunate” and gave an indication that his party could snap ties with the BJP over the issue.
The NPP-led government, of which the BJP is also a part, had earlier passed a cabinet resolution opposing the Bill. The party is a constituent of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a conglomerate of anti-Congress parties in the region. Meghalaya has two Lok Sabha seats.
NPP, which has four MLAs in Manipur, is also part of the BJP-led government headed by N Biren Singh.
In Tripura, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), which is a part of the BJP-led government, is also opposing the bill vehemently. The state also has two Lok Sabha seats.
Mizoram’s ruling party Mizo National Front (MNF), which is also a part of NEDA, has also voiced its resentment against the bill and chief minister Zoramthanga extended full support to Tuesday’s shutdown. The state has one Lok Sabha seat.
In Nagaland, where the BJP is part of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) led government, the state cabinet on Tuesday resolved to urge the Centre to review and examine the bill to ensure that it is in consonance with provisions of the constitution.
Arunachal Pradesh could witness simultaneous assembly polls along with the general election. This would be the first time the Pema Khandu-led government will face voters as BJP candidates—in 2014 Khandu and others from his cabinet had won on Congress tickets.
Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju, is a BJP MP from the state, which has two Lok Sabha seats.