The Cost of Citizenship
State governments in the N-E have tough time containing anger
ITANAGAR: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to three north-eastern states begins, public discourse in the region continues to revolve around the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
The Bill, which was successfully passed in the Lok Sabha where the ruling BJP has a clear majority, has been met with widespread opposition from civil society organisations and political parties alike, including some of its own allies.
Across the region, save for some pockets in Assam, the opposition to the Amendment seeks to reduce the duration of stay in India required by people of six non-Muslim religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, to attain Indian citizenship has been vocally expressed for the past year.
The BJP’s ally in Assam, the Assam Asom Gana Parishad, has withdrawn its support of the state government and regional political parties part of the BJP-led anti-Congress forum- the North East Democratic Alliance - recently adopted a resolution against the Bill.
The Cabinets of Meghalaya and Mizoram have also adopted similar resolutions.
In Mizoram, several NGOs boycotted Republic Day celebrations and held protests holding placards that read: “Hello China, Bye Bye India”.
The BJP’s own, Manipur chief minister Biren Singh, was reported to have sought the insertion of a clause that the states in the Northeast will not be affected by the Bill as opposition in the state continues to grow.
Noted filmmaker from Manipur, Aribam Syam Sharma, has returned the Padma Shri that was awarded to him in 2006 to mark his protest.
One coalition of NGOs in Manipur even called the Bill an ‘act of war’.
In Tripura, several organisations representing the interests of indigenous tribal populations have held protests already.
Friday was also when the Nagaland Gaon Bura Federation held a rally in the capital of Kohima on key issues, including a solution to the Naga sovereignty issue before the ensuing Lok Sabha polls and scrapping of the Bill.
In Arunachal Pradesh, where the BJP is in power, opposition to the Bill has been voiced primarily by student bodies, most notably the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU).
Here in Arunachal Pradesh the concern, as in Mizoram, revolves around the possibility of Chakma and Hajong refugees who were settled from Bangladesh by the Indian government in the 1960s without holding consultations with indigenous people of the state.
The Congress party chief of the state, Takam Sanjoy, today said that the Bill is “draconian” and “in direct violation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India”.
The state Congress unit will be holding a protest when the prime minister comes calling.
While opposition to the Bill has been vocal, the Arunachal Pradesh government has continued to play its card cautiously by trying to play down its possible implications.
Chief minister Pema Khandu did recently meet Union home minister Rajnath Singh and briefed him about the concerns at New Delhi.
However, for most part, the young chief minister has been evasive about the issue.
Khandu and his government have repeatedly said that the Bill will not affect Arunachal Pradesh since the state is protected under special provisions of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR).
Although the BEFR makes it illegal even for Indian citizens of other states to enter Arunachal Pradesh without acquiring an inner line permit, it does not necessarily mean that the state will not be affected by the amendment to the Bill.
Despite the chief minister saying that the Bill is not concerned with the state due to the implementation of the BEFR, nothing in the text of the regulation explicitly states that any future laws will not be applicable to the state.
Apart from the ILP clause, the BEFR prohibits acquisition of land by non-indigenous populations.
The amendment that the BJP is seeking can, however, grant voting rights to non-indigenous people, even those who may have entered the country illegally as has been claimed in the past.
Doubtless, for people seeking refuge in India, being awarded citizenship could make them indebted to the political party that pushed for the change. The question that several indigenous groups are asking is: At what cost?