Protests lock down northeast

Shutdown called by several organisations against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

Violence marked Tuesday’s 11-hour shutdown across States in the northeast, called by several organisations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. In Tripura, at least six tribal protesters were injured, two critically, as violence erupted near Agartala during a highway blockade called by the Northeast Students Organisation (NESO). The Twipra Students Federation (TSF), a constituent of the NESO, said the students were injured when security personnel opened fire. The Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura, a partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government, has extended support to the NESO blockade.

‘BJP betrayal’

Incidents of sporadic violence were reported from Assam, with the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) among the first groups to call for the shutdown against the Bill. Protesters belonging to at least 35 organisations affiliated to the AASU damaged vehicles and squatted on railway tracks, forcing the rescheduling of 26 long-haul trains. The protesters burnt Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in effigy. The police in Dibrugarh and Golaghat of eastern Assam clashed with crowds of protesters who stormed the local BJP offices and set fire to posters, banners and furniture. Crowds gathered around Mr. Sonowal’s residence in Dibrugarh and shouted slogans, accusing him of betraying the very people whose jati, maati, bheti (race, land and hearth) the BJP had promised to protect. They demanded his resignation. The shutdown affected life in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram where shops and commercial establishments, government offices and educational and financial institutes remained closed.

It, however, had minimal impact in Barak Valley in southern Assam. Assam’s Finance and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma allayed fears about the Bill, and said it would save 17 Assembly constituencies from “Jinnah’s ideology”. These 17 constituencies are Muslim-dominated. Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta dared the BJP to go in for mid-term polls. “ We demand the BJP dissolve the government and go for an election if they have the guts,” he said. Three AGP ministers and some MLAs serving as heads of various corporations are scheduled to resign on Wednesday. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, which is spearheading the anti-Citizenship Bill protests, threatened an economic blockade to “save Assam from the BJP’s evil designs”.

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