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Uneasy calm in northeast, anti-citizenship law protests singe Bengal

Curfew was relaxed in Assam's Dibrugarh and Meghalaya capital Shillong, but the ripple effect of anger over the hugely divisive law was felt in West Bengal where Beldanga railway station complex was set ablaze in Murshidabad district and RPF personnel were assaulted.

Updated: Dec 13, 2019, 10.53 PM IST
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No violent incidents were reported from Guwahati, the hotbed of violent protests on Thursday, but peaceful protests were held by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and some other outfits. There were reports of police firing in air to disperse protesters in some places in Assam.
GUWAHATI/NEW DELHI/KOLKATA: Protests against the new Citizenship law showed signs of ebbing away in Assam and elsewhere in the northeast on Friday with relaxation of curfew but parts of neighbouring West Bengal were in throes of violence as agitators vandalised public property and clashed with police.

Curfew was relaxed in Assam's Dibrugarh and Meghalaya capital Shillong, but the ripple effect of anger over the hugely divisive law was felt in West Bengal where Beldanga railway station complex was set ablaze in Murshidabad district and RPF personnel were assaulted.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, one of the foremost opposition voices against the citizenship act and national register of citizens (NRC), declared the amended law will not be implemented in West Bengal.

After Punjab, West Bengal and Kerala, Madhya Pradesh also appeared set to reject the amended act, with Chief Minister Kamal Nath asserting in New Delhi that it was part of the Centre's "politics of distractions" to deflect people's attention from economic slowdown.

"The stand of the Congress in any law that divides society will be the stand of the MP govt," he said when asked if like West Bengal and Kerala, the Madhya Pradesh government too would also reject the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that was signed into law by President Ramnath Kovind on Thursday.

Nath's Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel shared his view.

However, a top Union Home Ministry official said in the national capital that state governments have no power to reject the law as it was enacted under the Union List of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution.

"The states have no powers to deny implementation of a central law which is in the Union List," the top home ministry official said.

After two senior Bangladesh ministers Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Thursday cancelled their visits to India, the annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe scheduled from December 15-17 in Guwahati was deferred.

No violent incidents were reported from Guwahati, the hotbed of violent protests on Thursday, but peaceful protests were held by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and some other outfits. There were reports of police firing in air to disperse protesters in some places in Assam.

Fresh petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, including those by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh and Trinamool Congress lawmaker Mahua Moitra, challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.

Under the new law, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who fled Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, due to religious persecution, will be given Indian citizenship. AASU is also among the petitioners.

While normal life appeared getting back on track in the northeast, West Bengal singed with protests in Muslim dominated areas of rural Howrah, Murshidabad, Birbhum, parts of Burdwan and North Bengal.

"Several parts of the station, kisoks of RPF and tracks were set on fire. Train services have come to a halt here," a senior RPF official said after arson at Beldanga railway station.

Officials said protesters ransacked Beldanga police station and set vehicles ablaze in Raghunathgaj police station area of Murshidabad district.

Police contingents were rushed to affected places and Mamata Banerjee appealed for calm.

Rail and road traffic was disrupted in several parts of West Bengal.

Despite relative outward calm, Assam seethed with anger against the citizenship law with both pro and anti-talk fanctions of the once dreaded militant outfit ULFA opposing it.

"Students, KMSS and all sections of the society have come out in large numbers to protest peacefully but force was used by the authorities in an attempt to repress them. If this continues, we will not tolerate it and give a befitting reply," Paresh Baruah, the leader of the faction opposed to talks with the government told some TV channels from a safe haven in Myanmar.

Earlier in the day, pro-talk faction leader Arabinda Rajkhowa had asserted that the law will "destroy Assam and we will not allow it to be implemented at any cost".

Mamata Banerjee, who is hugely popular among the Muslims of West Bengal, went for BJP's jugular.

"We will never allow NRC and Citizenship Act in Bengal. We will not implement the amended Act, even though it has been passed in Parliament. The BJP can't just bulldoze the states to implement it," Banerjee told a press conference at seaside resort town of Digha, nearly 200 km from state capital Kolkata.

"The Citizenship Act will divide India. As long as we are in power, not a single person in the state will have to leave the country," the chief minister added.

She also referred to the cancellation of the Japanese premier's visit, calling it a "blot" on the country's reputation.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in New Delhi that the two countries have decided to "defer" Abe's visit for the summit to a mutually convenient date.

"With reference to the proposed visit of Japanese PM Abe to India, both sides have decided to defer the visit to a mutually convenient date in the near future," he said.

Undeterred by criticism and the violent fallout of the passage of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal talked tough and warned of action against those who indulged in vandalism.

"We will not tolerate any violence. Strong action will be taken against anyone who is involved in vandalism," he told PTI in an interview.

He also tried to smooth ruffled feathers, saying his government was committed to protecting the rights of indigenous people of Assam.

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