Citizenship Bill: Sleepwalking in the North-East

Citizenship Amendment Bill is doomed to be shelved as each of BJP’s ally in the North East is opposing it, however a question arises as to why did the parties ally with NDA in the first place?

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media

Patricia Mukhim

The Citizenship Amendment Bill, (CAB) 2016, may get shelved as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have adequate numbers in the Upper House to carry it through, but people in North Eastern states are asking why the regional parties chose to bed with the BJP in the first place.

The BJP never made any bones about wanting to pass the CAB. The Bill was proposed in the Lok Sabha in July 2016 and was finally passed by the House on January 8, 2019. According to the Bill, illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan would not be imprisoned or deported, but would be eligible for Indian citizenship. It also offers these refugees permanent citizenship after six years of residency in India instead of 11 years - as laid down in the Citizenship Act (1955). For the BJP, this is an electoral ploy to consolidate the Hindu vote bank because Christians, Parsis, Sikh, Buddhist etc. put together are a negligible number in the above-mentioned Muslim countries.

The opposition the Bill is facing in the North East is not difficult to understand. The amendment, people here apprehend, will fuel a fresh wave of migration from Bangladesh in these states. While persecuted Hindus in Afghanistan and Pakistan would choose to reside in the North Western parts of India, the 17 million Hindus from Bangladesh may well feel encouraged to settle in the North Eastern states for linguistic and cultural reasons.

There have been protests and scholars and academics have been busy explaining why the CAB should be opposed. Some groups from Assam staged a naked protest in front of Parliament in the January cold. Pressure groups across the region under the banner of the North East Students’ Organisation (NESO) have rallied together to protest the Bill which is seen as a dangerous ploy to populate the North Eastern states with Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has the third largest Hindu population after India and Nepal. History is a cruel divider of nations and peoples. In 1905 Bengal was divided into East and West Bengal. East Bengal had a Muslim majority population while West Bengal was largely Hindu. The British peddled a lie that the Partition of Bengal would improve administrative efficiency. East Bengal was tagged to Assam to form the Eastern Bengal and Assam province. Dhaka became the capital of Eastern Bengal and Assam. Chittagong, Dhaka and Rajshahi Divisions (excluding Darjeeling) and Malda District were separated from Bengal and transferred to the new province. Hill Tripura came under Eastern Bengal and Assam province.

It triggered a violent reaction mainly from the Hindus against the separation of Bengal. Leaders of the Congress Party launched massive agitations to end the Partition which was termed as a Policy of Divide and Rule. On Partition Day – October 16, 1905, the people of Bengal observed a day of mourning. The Partition of Bengal resulted in a major political crisis and triggered agitations and boycott of British goods.

They should have known that RSS’s Hindutva agenda would subsume all claims and intentions of good governance and ‘Vikas’. 

In 1911, the two Bengals were reunited but the Bengali Muslims remained antagonistic to the idea. During the Partition of India in 1947 East Bengal was ceded to Pakistan because it had a Muslim majority population. Since the BJP never tried to hide its intent about passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill, why did the people of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura elect the BJP first and are opposing it now? Why did regional political parties of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram agree to align with it? In Mizoram, the BJP has only one MLA and in Meghalaya two, yet BJP in these two states was undoubtedly the kingmaker and the kingpin. There was no protest from any of the pressure groups back then.

They should have known that RSS’s Hindutva agenda would subsume all claims and intentions of good governance and ‘Vikas’. So, what do the Governments of Meghalaya and Mizoram intend to do at this critical juncture? Would they dare to snap ties with the BJP-led NDA Government? Can they drop the BJP MLA/s from the alliance? Or will the MLAs resign their seats and contest from some other party?

That would have been the ultimate form of protest from Meghalaya and Mizoram. In the latter state there were banners saying, “Goodbye India, welcome China,” during the protest. While this is taking things too far but this goes to show how alienated people of this region feel even today. They feel that their protests here don’t reach Delhi. And yet the elected also know how important it is to align with a Government that is ruling in Delhi because they are so dependent on central dole. This dilemma of the seven states need to be addressed because it defeats the very idea of federalism.

As of now the CAB, 2016 may not pass muster in the Rajya Sabha but when elections arrive after a few weeks, the BJP led by Narendra Modi will go to Hindu constituents and say, “Look, we have tried our utmost to pass the CAB which would have made several million Hindus from Islamic countries, genuine citizens of India but the enemies of Hinduism have put paid to this Bill. Give us one more chance to prove our commitment to make India a nation where Hindus are safe and secure.”

That precisely is BJP’s ploy. Did we not know it? Of course we did! So, why did we sleepwalk and believe that we were safe sleeping with the enemy? Nay, making a pact with the devil himself? As usual, the answers are blowing in the wind

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