Missing link: North East, CAB & obscure assurance

The assurance given by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Chief Minister N Biren and Rajya Sabha MP Ksh Bhabananda that the interests of the Northeastern States will be protected sounds soothing but whether the Union Home Minister can calm the anguished people of the North East region is highly questionable. The assurance came a little late and it is confusingly vague. It was Rajnath Singh himself who stated on the floor of the Lok Sabha a few days back that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 would be applied to the whole country which means there is no question of exempting the North East or Manipur or any region of the country from the Bill’s ambit. One pertinent question arises here. How and with what mechanism the interests of the people of the North East region will be protected in the face of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu and non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is a missing link. The State Government’s own efforts to protect its people through an appropriate legislation are yet to fructify. The Manipur People’s Protection Bill was passed on July 23, 2018 after years of sustained civil movements which entailed huge casualties but the Bill has been gathering dust in the Ministry of Home Affairs for the past six months or so awaiting presidential assent. While the Home Ministry has been sleeping over the Bill for such a long time without even giving a single comment, the Union Home Minister was saying that the interests of the people of the North East in general and Manipur in particular will be protected amidst the vehement protest raging throughout the North East region. Given these facts, the Union Home Minister’s assurance is not reassuring enough, if not totally doubtful.
At the same time, presuming that the Manipur People’s Protection Bill is given presidential assent and is given the form and spirit of a legislation, it is hard to believe that it would able to protect the indigenous people of Manipur if the NDA Government bulldozes its way and somehow enacts the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 as a statute if the widespread protests seen in Assam, where the Assam Accord 1985 is in force and a National Register of Citizens has been published, Nagaland and Mizoram where Inner Line Permit System is still retained, is any indication. The advocates of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 and those at the helm of affairs at New Delhi must understand that immigration, both legal and illegal, has been a serious political and socio-economic issue in the entire North East region since many decades back. It would be a gross mistake if the indigenous people’s movements against immigration of non-local people are construed as driven by xenophobia. Threats posed by large scale influx of immigrants vary reciprocally to geographical size and population of the host state, and correspondingly to the degree of divergence of culture and customs between the immigrants and the indigenous people. It is an undeniable fact that Manipur is a very tiny State with a very small population but they have unique identity, culture and traditions which differ sharply from the predominant Indian culture and tradition. Opening floodgates of immigration to Manipur will definitely erode and erase the unique identity of Manipur and her people and for that matter, of every indigenous community of the North East. It is this common fear which has united all the indigenous people of the North East against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016. As for the Bill’s objectives, it is not driven by any humanitarian concern given its sectarian approach and the way the Government of India has been dealing with Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar.

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