The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 aims to provide Indian citizenship to those who had been forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution in neighbouring countries.

BJP reaches out to North-East allies to allay fears on citizenship bill

The BJP aims to win a majority of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in North-East India despite backlash against the citizenship amendment bill.

New Delhi: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a concerted effort to address the concerns of its alliance partners in the North-East over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, after facing backlash from them on the issue and against the backdrop of sporadic protests in the region against the Bill.

“We are reaching out to alliance partners who have expressed concerns over the bill. We will reassure them that the interests of each and every state will be taken care of. We are confident that those who have left will come back," Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary said on Thursday, three days after Union home minister Rajnath Singh announced that the centre would hold meetings with the chief ministers of all North-eastern states.

The crucial Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha during the recently concluded winter session of Parliament.

The decision to call a meeting of chief ministers of all the northeastern states comes after Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal met Singh to raise the concerns over the Bill.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is in power in seven of the eight states in the North-East. The region is electorally important as it accounts for 25 Lok Sabha seats out of which the NDA has 10 members of Parliament (MPs). The BJP aims to win a majority of the seats in the region during the forthcoming 2019 general elections.

“The NDA leaders from the North-East have been raising concerns over the cultural and linguistic identity of the region, which they fear would get affected because of the citizenship amendment Bill. The government and the BJP leadership wants to assure them that the Union government would protect the interests of northeast states," said a senior BJP leader from the North-East.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which walked out of the ruling alliance in Assam, was the first among the NDA coalition partners to protest against the Bill. Former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Gegong Apang quit the NDA on Wednesday to oppose the crucial Bill. Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma is expected to lead a delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express the concerns of the state over the Bill.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 aims to provide Indian citizenship to those who had been forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries, primarily Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

In contrast, the Citizenship Act of 1955 labels a person an “illegal immigrant" if the person has entered without travel documents or has overstayed the date specified in the travel documents.

Ethnic Assamese organizations and various political parties have hit out at the centre, claiming that the bill is at cross-purposes with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which seeks to wean out illegal immigrants who have come from Bangladesh and other adjoining countries.

The amendment paves the way for non-Muslim minorities who came to India and by extension to Assam from Bangladesh between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1974 to be granted citizenship. This, according to parties of the NorthEast, interferes with and negates the entire NRC exercise, which is scheduled to come out with the final list this year.