Road, rail blockade in Bengal as protests against Citizenship law continue

A demonstrator burns tyres on National Highway 17 during a protest rally against CAB, at Boko in Kamrup district of Assam, Friday. Photo: PTI

Protests against the new Citizenship law showed signs of ebbing in Assam and elsewhere in the northeast on Friday (December 13) with relaxation of curfew but parts of neighbouring West Bengal were in throes of violence as agitator’s 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.

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.

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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.

West Bengal bears the brunt

Road and rail blockades continued in different parts of West Bengal on Saturday (December 14) by people protesting against the amended Citizenship Act. Incidents of violence were reported from Murshidabad and North 24 Paraganas districts, and rural Howrah, police said.

The National Highway 34, one of the arterial roads that connect north and south Bengal, was blocked in Murshidabad. Several other roads in the district were also blocked, they said.

Security personnel stand guard as protestors take part in an agitation against the passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill, infront of Raj Bhavan in Shillong, Meghalaya, Friday. Photo: PTI

In Howrah districts Domjur area, the National Highway 6 was blocked as protester set tyers ablaze and ransacked several vehicles, the police said. Huge police contingent has been rushed to the spot to control the situation, they said.

Train movements were also blocked in the Sealdah- Hasnabad section of the Eastern Railway. The agitators are staging sit-ins on the tracks at Shondaliya and Kakra Mirzapur stations of the section since 6.25 am, a railway spokesperson said.

Also read | Shinzo Abe’s visit to India postponed amid rising violence in Assam

Protests over the amended Citizenship Act reached the shores of West Bengal on Friday, with agitators resorting to violence and arson at railway stations and thoroughfares across the state, seeking immediate revocation of the law.

In Kolkata, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind took out a massive protest rally demanding immediate scrapping of the controversial act, which it termed “discriminatory.”

Assamese film actors and actresses take part in a hunger strike organised by All Assam Students Union (AASU) in protest against the passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Guwhati, Friday. Photo: PTI

A group later coming out of the rally, blocked a busy junction in Park Circus area of the city. The blockade was lifted after about three hours.

Meanwhile, chief minister Mamata Banerjee appealed to the people to maintain calm and reiterated that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the CA would not be implemented in the state.

Also read | Citizenship law is just a gimmick, BJP only wants to distract

She also called a meeting of her party leaders, MLAs and MPs on December 20 to chalk out ruling TMC’s strategy after the amendments made into the Citizenship Act.

The BJP has already announced to launch door-to-door campaign to apprise the people about the “benefits” of the CA.

ULFA militants warn Centre

Despite relative outward calm, Assam seethed with anger against the citizenship law with both pro and anti-talk factions 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.

Protestors take part in a march against the passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill, infront of Raj Bhavan in Shillong, Meghalaya, Friday. Photo: PTI

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.

Also read | Shah cancels visit to Meghalaya, Arunachal amidst CAB protests

“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.

Assam CM issues warning

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 said.

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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