'It is a historic victory' | The Daily Star
12:40 AM, February 15, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:42 AM, February 15, 2019

'It is a historic victory'

Celebrations erupt in northeast India after contentious citizenship amendment bill failed to pass in Rajya Sabha

Celebrations have erupted in northeast India after a contentious nationality law put forward by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government failed to pass.

The proposed changes to the 1955 Citizenship Act would have given Indian nationality to Hindus and other minorities emigrating from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The legislation -- passed by the lower house of parliament in January -- sparked angry protests in India's northeast, long riven by tensions between local tribal and indigenous groups, and settlers from outside.

Modi's ruling alliance failed to present the bill in the upper house, which adjourned on Wednesday after its final session before general elections due by May.

Local media reported that celebrations broke out in some half a dozen northeastern states after it became clear the bill would not be passed.

"It is a historic victory for the people of northeast (India). The people of the seven states in the region stood together in opposing the bill forcing the country's ruling party to give in," Samujjal Bhattacharyya from the powerful All Assam Students' Union told AFP.

"We are very firm in our opposition and are going to oppose the bill if the BJP government comes to power" in the future, he added.

The region has been plagued by decades of tensions between local tribal and indigenous groups and settlers from outside, including many Muslims and Hindus from nearby Bangladesh.

While some groups there want to block all outsiders, human rights activists also condemned Modi's Hindu nationalist government for excluding Muslims in the proposed legislation.

They say it will be the first time religion has been a criteria for nationality in India, which is officially secular.

But the people remain wary of the BJP, a sentiment that gives the Congress a chance to reinvent itself in the region. The ruling party, for its part, hopes to make the most of the short breather it has received from the anti-citizenship bill protests.

The National People's Party, the BJP's key partner in the Northeast, feels a crisis has been averted, reported NDTV Online.

Party leaders said they would have had no option but to walk out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance if the bill was passed. "Everybody from political parties to civil society groups stood together to oppose the bill. Today, the sentiments and the voice of the northeastern people have prevailed," said Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who led the regional parties' joint platform against the bill.

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