The day-long Bihar bandh against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed countrywide National Register for Citizens (NRC) evoked tremendous response as people took to the streets in huge numbers to register their protests, bringing life to a grinding halt across the state on Saturday (December 21).
The call for the bandh (shutdown) was given by opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), but received support from all the opposition parties in the state.
Carrying placards, national flags and party flags in hands, angry supporters marched through the main thoroughfares of the state, shouting slogans against the government and demanding the withdrawal of the new legislation and the proposed NRC.
Protesters blocked roads, squatted on railway tracks and resorted to large-scale arson to enforce the shutdown. They also took out protest marches across the state, appealing for support and urging businessmen to down their shutters.
At some places, protests turned violent as angry protesters smashed window panes of buses, cars and auto rickshaws plying on the streets. In eastern Bihar’s Bhagalpur town, they were seen smashing glass panes of several auto rickshaws with bamboo sticks and resorting to arson. In Patna, agitators were caught attacking police check posts with sticks and burning tyres on the streets to block traffic.
Violence was also reported from Aurangabad where the protesters clashed with the police and threw bricks at them. Similar incidents were reported from Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Munger and Phulwarisharif localities of Patna. They even protested bare-chested in the chilling cold with slogans, such as “CAA-NRC Go Back”, painted on their bodies.
“The Modi-Shah duo has thrown the country into a fire of civil war by announcing their NRC plan. The situation has now gone out of control. Our protests will continue until the CAA and NRC are withdrawn,” announced RJD leader and former Bihar assembly speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary, referring to the prime minister and the union home minister.
“Muslims are only an excuse; the real targets are the poor, Dalits and backwards. How will they prove their citizenship?” asked Chaudhary, who sat on a dharna in Patna.
“We are the bona fide citizens of the country and we are being told to prove our citizenship! This won’t be tolerated,” said another protester.
RJD vice-president and former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh too took to the streets in protest against the CAA and NRC, and termed them as “black laws”. “The Centre’s act is divisive. The protests are not limited to India but has also spread to Chicago and London. We won’t stay silent until the NRC is withdrawn,” Singh declared.
The agitation reached a crescendo as Patna’s Dak Bungalow crossing, which has been the hotbed of protests in the state capital, remained chock-a-block with a huge crowd for about an hour when RJD’s senior leader Tejashwi Yadav addressed the protesters.
“My party is ready to offer any sacrifice to save the country and its democracy. It won’t surrender before the communal forces; rather we will defeat them with the support of the masses,” declared Tejashwi, the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
He said the party has no faith in Home Minister Amit Shah and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as they “kehte kucch hain, karte kuchh hain (say one thing and do something else)”. He exhorted the masses to stay united.
The masses also didn’t take note of Nitish Kumar’s announcement of not implementing NRC in Bihar. Meanwhile, former union minister and RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha said, “When the NRC is implemented across the country, every state will have to implement it. Nitish can’t defy it. We are not fools.”
A peculiar aspect of the Bihar shutdown was that even children took part in the protests in large numbers and were caught shouting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Ham sabko Modi bhagana chahta hai…NRC wapas lena hoga (Modi wants to drive us out of the country. He will have to withdraw NRC),” the children joining protests in Aurangabad districts told the local media.
Meanwhile, in a peculiar sight witnessed in Vaishali district, protesters were seen blocking roads using buffaloes. In Gaya, they offered rose buds to the residents to win their support against the contentious new legislation.
Yet another important feature of the bandh was that all opposition parties, including the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata party, Hindustani Awam Morcha, Samajwadi party, Vikashsil Insan Party and the Left, had lent their full support to the bandh called by the RJD and also actively participated in the demonstrations.
This was the second time in three days that Bihar witnessed shutdown. On December 19, Left parties had enforced Bihar bandh, which too had received an impressive response from the public.