Moving the Citizenship Bill More Complex than Imagined by BJP

by February 5, 2019 0 comments


The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, one that provides for relocation and return of those with proven Indic civilisational links from the polarised border states of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is clearly backfiring in the Northeast, which finds the proposed law a threat to regional identity and cultures. While the ruling BJP at the Centre has moved the Bill, hoping for an enhanced cushion of returnee Hindu votes and more importantly to be seen as a crusader of the persecuted Hindu cause on the eve of general elections, it had not counted the complexity of local dynamics in the Northeast. In fact, though it had hoped to consolidate its gains in the region with a revolutionary step, hoping it would help it get additional insurance for loss of heartland seats, it has now clearly backflushed on its prospects. After Assam, where the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) quit the alliance government with the BJP over this issue, it is Manipur which has turned quite flagrant. Filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma has returned his Padma Shri in solidarity with public protesters, implying if his people’s voice was not heard by the government, then he did not need its award. His logic is in line with what the AGP has contended all along, that a refugee influx, irrespective of religion, would change the demographic contours of the border districts that would forever be a prey base for the larger national parties and ensure the local parties, and by extension the local ethos and issues they represent, are squeezed out. For Manipur, the Bill could spell disaster as it has a large number of ethnic groups, each with unique dialects, customary laws and practices, and make for just 0.2 per cent of the country’s population. Fearing a demographic swamp, all political parties from Manipur have urged  the Centre “to incorporate a safeguarding clause for the protection of the indigenous people of northeast region in general and the state of Manipur in particular.”

More worrisome is that the BJP’s allies are getting restive.The AGP has been arguing that the Bill granting citizenship to Hindu refugees from across the border till the cutoff year of 2014 is detrimental to Ahom identity and the right of indigenous people over their land, indeed the wherewithal of its politics. Similarly, the Conrad Sangma-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA), where BJP is a coalition partner, has urged a review of the bill or its rejection otherwise. The Mizos don’t want it either, fearing a massive influx by Buddhist Chakmas. Particularly, it is the regional student groups, be it the Assamese, Khasis and Nagas, who have been at the forefront of the agitation. They claim that the Northeastern states are yet to recover from the influx of Hindu Bengalis from 1971 and of course, the subsequent illegal Muslim immigrants, a process encouraged by national parties for votebase management. Besides, one must not forget the colonial legacy, which ensured the predominance of dominant, educated communities in civil, administrative structures, one that significantly dictated the rules of the local economy. Any further rule relaxing these would mean a flood of outsiders and a consequent drought of economic opportunities for local people in a region that is still struggling to be a part of mainstream narrative, albeit always used as a political tool. So the self-proclaimed “microscopic minority” cannot be negotiated anymore and one wonders if the ruling BJP can pacify the collective anxieties by granting protective shields like Scheduled Tribe status. That could pose a humongous problem for identifying and categorising them in the first place. Facilitating refugees has worked for the Congress and other Opposition parties at one time. As waves of Bangladeshi migrants crossed the borders, each Opposition party has been guilty of legalising their stay and shoring up votebanks. If it was Muslims before, it is Hindus now. But the BJP finds itself in a cleft stick because while nurturing the Northeast is a key arrowhead of its Look East policy, its empowered allies are demanding their pound of flesh.

Writer and Courtesy: The Pioneer

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