Agitators clashed with the police, gheraoed Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s house at his native place in Dibrugarh, blocked national highways and damaged vehicles in Assam during an 11-hour “bandh” called by the AASU to protest against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) activists clashed with the police when they attempted to ransack a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office in Dibrugarh, prompting the security forces to resort to lathicharge and fire rubber bullets to disperse the protestors.
Nobody was injured in the incident, the police said.
The AASU has called for a statewide “bandh” and it is being supported by the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which withdrew support to the BJP-led government in Assam on Monday.
Opposition Congress, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) are also supporting the bandh.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 aims to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to grant Indian citizenship to those Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and entered India before December 31, 2014.
Normal life was hit in the Brahmaputra valley and was partially affected in the Barak valley due to a “north-east bandh” called separately by the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), an umbrella organisation of students’ bodies in the region, of which the AASU is a constituent.
The “bandh” called by the NESO on the same issue is being supported by over 100 organisations in Assam as well as in the other north-eastern states.
The agitators gheraoed Sonowal’s house in his home town, Dibrugarh, to register their protest against the bill. They raised slogans that the chief minister had no reason to continue on his post as he could not protect the interests of the people of the state.
The protesters blocked roads and national highways by burning tyres and smashed the windshields of trucks, cars and autorickshaws at many places, including in Guwahati, the police said.
The picketers squatted on the railway tracks at various places in Guwahati and Dibrugarh district, but the movement of trains, including that of the Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express and the Kolkata-bound Kamrup Express, resumed after the Government Railway Police (GRP) personnel removed them from the tracks, railway sources said.
There was no movement of goods-laden trucks on all the national highways, following an economic blockade call issued by the KMSS, sources said.
Private and government vehicles plying on the national highways were being escorted by the police in convoys, they added.
Banners and posters at a BJP office were set ablaze in Golaghat, while a black flag was put up at another office of the saffron party in Lakhimpur district, the police said.
Shops, markets, banks and other financial institutions kept their shutters down, educational institutions, private offices remained closed and private vehicles including long-distance buses kept off the roads in the Brahmaputra valley, the police and official sources said.
The attendance was thin in government offices as the employees faced difficulty in reaching the workplace in the absence of adequate public transport, the sources said.
The “bandh” also evoked response in the Barak valley, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on January 4 that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 would be passed in Parliament as soon as possible as a penance for past injustices.
Thirty ethnic organisations, besides 69 other groups along with the KMSS, have extended their support to the “bandh”.
AASU and NESO chief adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya told reporters, “If Meghalaya and Mizoram can adopt a cabinet resolution opposing the bill, why can’t Assam do the same?
“The people of Assam, for the last 70 years since Independence, have been forced by the Centre to agitate for their rights, language, existence, culture, heritage and infrastructure.”
Dipankar Nath, the president of AASU, which had led the six-year-long Assam Movement against illegal immigrants, said, “Despite wide opposition to it, the BJP government at the Centre has undemocratically imposed the bill on us as they want to win the (Lok Sabha) election by taking the votes of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.”
The “north-east bandh” called by the NESO is being enforced by its member organisations such as the Mizo Zirlai Pawal (MZP), the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), the Garo Students’ Union (GSU), the Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) and the Twipra Students’ Federation (TSF).
The “bandh” has hit normal life in Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, according to reports from these states.