Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 and Northeast India
On the eve of Lok Sabha elections, 2019, the whole of North East region comprising Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura are trembled by the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 by Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019. Out of the seven States in the region, the BJP ruled States are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura. There are coalition governments with BJP in Meghalaya and Nagaland. The coalition government in Meghalaya is led by National People’s Party with Conrad Sangma as Chief Minister. Nagaland is also led by regional political party called Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) with Neiphiu Rio as Chief Minister. And the regional political party, Mizo National Front is the ruling party in Mizoram, Zoramthanga being the Chief Minister. Except Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, there is strong reaction against the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 in Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur from the governmental level. The political voice against the said Bill is loudest from Mizoram. The Chief Minister Zoramthanga had raised the objection of his government against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 in a strong reaction. Though MNF is an ally of North East Democratic Alliance, the party had formed the government independently without BJP after the Assembly elections, 2018. The Chief Minister is bold enough to speak strongly against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 which was passed on January 8, 2019 at the initiative of BJP led NDA government with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. The views of the State government are also shared by the BJP unit of Mizoram. The President of State BJP has recently announced that if the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 is passed by Rajya Sabha the BJP State unit will be dissolved. The MNF government and the State BJP are equally concerned about the Bill which will affect the interests of the people when implemented after the Bill becomes an Act. It may be noted that the Inner Line Permit system which protects the identity and culture of the indigenous people of Mizoram is still operating in Mizoram.
Nagaland is another State in North Eastern region suffering from the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. The State government headed by Neiphiu Rio, NDPP which is in coalition with BJP had reacted strongly against the Bill. The Cabinet has already taken a resolution rejecting the said Bill. The opposition party, Naga People’s Front (NPF) had also opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. The President of the party Dr. Shurhozelie Liezietsu has directed all the units of the party to observe bandh on February 11, 2019 against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. The Nagaland Gaon Buras Federation (NGBF) has called total bandh all over Nagaland in 11 districts. The Joint Committee on Prevention of Illegal Immigration consisting of more than 20 Civil Society organisations under the initiative of Nagaland Tribes Council has called bandh against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 in the State. The JCPI said, ‘the Citizenship Amendment Bill strike at the core of Naga identity and therefore every Naga should take it upon himself to stand up for their own rights without viewing the February 11 bandh as meaningless or an unnecessary inconvenience to the public’. The leaders of the NSCN (IM), Th. Muivah had also reacted strongly against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. The Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 protecting the identity and culture of the Naga people is still operating in Nagaland along with Article 371-A. Still the State government and the people feel that the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 will affect the interests of the people of Nagaland.
Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura are BJP ruled States. The Governments in these two States have not responded against the Bill strongly, maybe because of having same ruling political party, both at the Union and State. But the reaction from the people had emerged strongly against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. It is mainly the Civil Society organisations in the two States heading the protest rallies and movements against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. In Tripura, it has been reported that some of the protestors were arrested under sedition by the government. There is a gap between the political stand taken by the government on one hand and the fear and grievances of the people on the other.
The protest against the Bill was also very strong in Manipur. The women vendors of Khwairamband market had protested against the Bill by shutting down their commercial activities since February 8 to 13, 2019. The protest was to continue indefinitely till the said Bill was withdrawn. The women vendors spent the nights in the market protesting against the Bill. And the women protestors have suffered due to the action taken by the police forces using tear gas shells, in their attempt to disperse the womenfolk on February 10, 2019. In the clash between the womenfolk and the police forces, six women and one women constable got injured and they were hospitalised for medical treatment. The People’s Alliance of Manipur (PAM) an organisation had also called 36 hours shutdown from 5 a.m. of February 11 to February 12, 2019, 5 p.m. protesting against the Bill. Further MANPAC, consisting of 72 Civil Society organisations has also called to all the people to halt all vehicular movement on February 12, 2019 and to come out to the streets and protest against the Bill. The protests against the Bill have created a tense social atmosphere in the life of the people of Manipur. On the other hand, the political leaders of the State including the Chief Minister, Ministers and leaders of the political parties have working hard by persuading the Prime Minister, Home Minister and other leaders and MPs of Parliament, not to pass and not to support the Bill when it is introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The State political leaders were concerned about the mass movement against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 and tried to convince the Central leaders about the fear and apprehensions of the people of Manipur. The voices of the people of Manipur and other States of North East India were not properly heard by the Central leaders. The Prime Minister and the Home Ministers when approached said that the Bill will not affect the interests of the people of North Eastern region. There is a gap between the views of the Union Government led by Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and what the Civil Society organisations and the people of North East region feel about the Bill. There may be truths on both sides regarding the Bill. The Union government thinks that it is the duty of the government to accommodate the minorities coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to India. What the people of North East region feels is that the illegal immigrants are already in North East region, mainly coming from Bangladesh and settled in different parts of the region, majority being in Assam, will be the dominant community in course of time and finally may result in the marginalisation of the indigenous people in the socio-economic and political matters of the region. This fear is the root cause of the mass movements of the people in the North East region. Whatever may be the reason given by the Central leaders of the Union Government, there is need to protect the people of North East by providing room in the Bill. Though the Home Minister said that the illegal immigrants after recognising as citizens are free to settle in any part of India, the truth remains that majority of them will settle in Assam and other States of North Eastern region. It is debatable whether the Central Government can arrange through constitutional and legal mechanisms to distribute the illegal immigrants after becoming citizens under the Bill, when it becomes an Act, to the 29 States of India. If so, the demographic burden likely to impose on the States of North East India may be lessened.
The tense social and political situation in North East region returned to normalcy in the afternoon of February 13, 2019 after the adjournment of Rajya Sabha sine die, without the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 being tabled in the House. The people along with the concerned governments, except Assam and Tripura felt happy over the victory of mass movements against the Bill. There may be many factors responsible for not placing the Bill in Rajya Sabha. First, lack of majority support to pass the Bill may be one factor and secondly, the political desire on the part of the Chief Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, not to pass the Bill by pressuring the Central leaders may be also another factor. Thirdly, the mass movements in the different States of the region including Manipur along with the objection raised by the opposition parties had acted as a social and political force against the Bill. The CAB may not be issued in the form of ordinance during the present term of NDA government.