The adamant stand of the Narendra Modi government to push ahead with the Citizenship Amendment Bill despite opposition may have just proven what the people in the northeast region have long believed – their sentiments, their fears and their apprehensions do not matter in the scheme of India’s larger political aims and objectives.
The widespread violence across Assam and Tripura is symptomatic of a larger sense of frustration against the failed governance of respective state governments within the region. In a way, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
What the Modi government’s CAB has miserably failed to comprehend is that communities in the northeast have developed their own social, political and economic environment. They have their own traditional and cultural system that could be significantly affected by the legislation allowing migrants from Bangladesh or other neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ignoring protests, opposition
Since 2016, when the Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha, there has been significant unrest in the northeast, particularly in Assam. All eight states in the region have known from the beginning the impact that this Bill, which is now a legislation, would have on the indigenous population.
Vehement protests in Manipur, Assam and Nagaland forced Home Minister Amit Shah to hold a consultative meeting with the chief ministers of these states and representatives of the protesting groups on 4 December, six days before the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha.
The fear had been similar across the board. It stems from the inherent knowledge of the people that no mechanism exists to protect the identity of the indigenous population. They know that having more immigrants in their state will affect the cultural, social and economic status quo of the native communities.
The legislation excludes Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur, because of the Inner Line Permit, a provision under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, being in place. In addition, under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, autonomous councils and districts created in Assam and Meghalaya that enjoy certain executive and legislative powers are also exempt from the purview of the CAB 2019.
Demographic change primary concern
But this has not addressed the moot question of the ILP system being insufficient to protect these regions from the ‘indirect’ impact of the influx of large populations in the neighbouring states and region.
A classic case is that of the indigenous community of Tripura. For decades, illegal immigration has been taking place in Tripura and the indigenous people are today a minority in their own land. Demographic change is the primary concern because it has a direct bearing on the social, political and economic issues. Add to this the fact that the legislation completely nullifies the struggle of the six-year-long Assam Movement that culminated in the Assam Accord.
The Accord was signed on 15 August 1985 between the representatives of the government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi. The agreed cut-off date for identifying illegal immigrants was declared as “March 24, 1971”, but the law unilaterally changed the cut-off date for migrants belonging to six religions to 31 December 2014, after a gap of 43 years.
The CAB 2019 also contradicts the National Register of Citizens, which is a roster of all those who were settled in Assam before the midnight of 24 March 1971. By the current clause of CAB, Bengali Hindus (from Bangladesh) declared illegal immigrants by the NRC are now legal citizens. This is not only a contrast but contradictory to the objectives of the NRC process.
Moreover, the population growth rate in tribal communities has not known to increase in leaps and bounds. The decadal growth rate, in fact, shows a decrease in population in the census figures of Nagaland in 2001 and 2011 by 8,034 individuals. In 2011, the Census figures put the population of Nagaland at 19,80,602 whereas in 2001, it was 19,88,636.
Finally, the CAB, technically, will legalise and grant citizenship on the basis of religion. The leaders of Nagaland know that they cannot concede before the tribal communities that being out of the purview of the CAB will safeguard their interests. If they do, they better be geared to ride the storm picking up momentum on the horizon as neighbouring Assam burns.
The author is the editor of Nagaland Today. Views are personal.