Can people of North-East blame the Centre alone for CAA?
John S Shilshi
Since CAA became a controversial issue, so much have been spoken or written about it that commenting anything on the issue may sometimes appear stale and repetitive. However, the issue being closely followed by the common public particularly in the north-east region, it is imperative to try and look back how Assam and the region had followed the CAB journey since its first introduction in the Parliament. In January 2019, when the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the region, in a rare show of unity protested, with politicians, civil society organisations and students speaking out in one voice. This did send a strong message and the Bill did not find its way to the upper house of the Parliament. The region welcomed this decision as a victory and there were celebrations and chest thumping all over.
In the midst of these celebrations, there was one person who sulked, and he was none other than Hima Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s master strategist in Assam. With tinge of disappointment, Sarma said his party was not conceding defeat so easily and that the party shall ensure the re-entry of the Bill to the Parliament and also make sure that it comes out as an Act. These strong words from one of the key functionary of the state BJP was mistaken to be one spoken out of frustration. But when the Sankalp Patra (Manifesto for Lok Sabha elections 2019) of the BJP was released, it became clear that the Assam strongman after all was not indulging in loose talks. The desire to amend the Citizenship Act indeed figured again as one of the key objectives of BJP among many others, which may be described as controversial. Nevertheless, key opponents like the Indian National Congress, so also the regional parties took it for granted that the grunts and hos of people would once again discourage the BJP from doing it all over again.
Prior to the announcement of the Parliamentary elections, political parties in the region did show some semblance seriousness by speaking in one voice and raising common concerns. Besides pulling out three of their Ministers from Sonowal-led government, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) played a lead role in protesting against the CAB. Its leader Prafulo Kumar Mohanto led an all-party delegation to Delhi to convey the collective sentiments of the region, where at he went all guns blazing, accusing the BJP of ditching the people of north east through introduction of a controversial Bill. He even went on record on different Television Channels stating that his party would never collaborate with a party that aims to destabilize the region. But once the election dates were announced by the election commission, CAB ceased to be a hot topic. Political parties, including the AGP, went scampering working out ways and means of forging pre-poll alliances in order to remain close to the party that was expected to rule the country. In the process, the AGP suddenly found virtue in its former ally and succumbed to the proverbial “there are no permanent friends or foes in Indian politics” and solemnly shook hand again with a partner it deserted not too long ago.
In other states of the region too, the willingness to pile on to the BJP was very much visible. Therefore, from the time the election results were declared, the writings on the walls were very much clear. Within weeks of Modi’s second inning, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 suddenly assumed a priority ranking in the list of BJP, next only to the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir. Regardless of how loud the protests resonated from the hills and valleys of north east, the party was bent upon and determined to push the Bill. And so it did, and successfully even as the entire north east was burning with protests where Members of Parliament from the region too conveniently remained blinded to the shouts and screams in their respective constituencies. Most significantly, majority of them supported and voted in favour of the Bill in both houses of the Parliament. Therefore, it is not without the contributions of people from the north-east that CAB today is CAA.
In April 2019, this Author had predicted about the ongoing unrest in north-east while writing for another Newspaper in the region, the archaic of which is now unfortunately inaccessible due to the paper upgrading their website. In that Article it was also predicted that when the Bill would be re-introduced in the Parliament, representative from the north east states were likely to speak politically correct languages and facilitate smooth passage in both houses of the Parliament. This precisely was what we saw when the Bill was deliberated in the Indian Parliament. Concerns expressed at home didn’t matter to them much; hence they made their choice according to their will. Therefore, despite the sympathies to all those who genuinely felt concerned about the long term implications of CAA, it must be said that it is incorrect to blame the centre alone for today’s state of affairs because the north east too, after all had hands in ensuring that the Bill becomes a law.
Recently as agitations against the Act spiralled, a popular news portal in India had quoted a youth from Assam as saying, “People are angry because they fear that they will have to share their land, jobs and resources with foreigners. It is not about Hindus or Muslims. We don’t want any more outsiders in Assam.
The decision of the government will ruin our culture and language”. This remarks pretty much sums up the sentiments of people in the region, particularly Assam, a state and a people that have borne much of the brunt of migration from neighbouring country. We therefore see that unlike in mainland India, the concern is not so much about how CAA would dilute or impact on the secular character of the Indian Constitution. Here, it is about survival and fear of being possibly swamped and swallowed by people the Act aims to rehabilitate. Whether this sentiment would be assuaged politically through some course correction shall only be known in due course of time. But for the present, it appears that all roads to remedy seem to have hit a dead end, and there is very little the region could, being complicit to the whole exercise.
(The writer is a retired IPS officer, now a strategic Analyst on internal security. Views expressed are personal)