Manipur fears return of insurgency as opposition to citizenship bill grows among natives dismayed at being outnumbered

  • The Coalition for Indigenous Rights Campaign (CIRCA), a citizen's organisation had termed the passing of CAB 2019 as an act of declaring war on the indigenous people of the North East”.

  • Manipur and the other northeastern states

  • Though, a joint committee of political parties and representatives are in Delhi to lobby against the passage the CAB 2019 in the Rajya Sabha, Congress, MPP and JD-U are staying away it

  • Manipur was totally paralysed on Thursday by a 24-hours shutdown called to oppose CAB 2019 by a conglomerate of 64 NGOs in Manipur

  • While nationally, opposition to CAB 2019 is because of its anti-secular nature, the North East fears that if the bill becomes an act, it would reduce the natives to a minority like in Tripura

The insurgency in the North East might get a fresh lease of life with Centre's determination to go ahead with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 fermenting alienation and mistrust among the native population in the region.

The Coalition for Indigenous Rights Campaign (CIRCA), a citizen's organisation, has gone to the extent of describing the passing of CAB 2019 in the Lok Sabha on 8 January as an “act of declaring war on the indigenous people of (the) North East”.

Reiterating its stand for a mass movement to restore the ‘pre-merger status’ of Manipur, (the erstwhile Asiatic Kingdom of Manipur merged into the Union of India in 1949), CIRCA appealed to the people of the region to socially "boycott" all the MPs, MLAs and ministers of the seven states who stood for the CAB 2019. The Manipur-based citizen's organisation advocated boycotting the forthcoming Lok Sabha Election if the Bill becomes an act.

 Manipur fears return of insurgency as opposition to citizenship bill grows among natives dismayed at being outnumbered

Anti-CAB 2019 protests in Manipur. Bona Meisnam

Articulating the shared concerns of the region, Somorendro Thokchom, president of CIRCA, said CAB 2019 is a policy to crush the Mongoloid population of the North East by opening up a demographic floodgate. Thokchom alleged that the "agenda is to completely annihilate and wipe out the indigenous people of the North East by orchestrating a demographic invasion from across the border".

Resonating the same sentiment, the seven northeastern states — Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya — have unitedly opposed the Bill, which seeks to legalise illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries through parliamentary legislation.

The conditions mandated for foreign nationals seeking Indian citizenship are provided under sections 3-7 of the Citizenship Act, 1955. Even as the Act itself is quite accommodating, the privileges and options are not extended to illegal migrants. However, the 2004 amendment in the Act relaxed the rules to accommodate minority groups who fled Pakistan due to religious persecution. Now, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 proposes to accommodate Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have faced religious persecution, as Indian citizens. The Amendment Bill seeks to radically change citizenship and immigration laws in favour of non-Muslim minorities. In short, Hindus and other non-Muslim minority groups from any of these countries are eligible for Indian Citizenship on the plea that they are being persecuted for their religion.

While the national discourse is on how CAB 2019 is a blot in the secular character of India by discriminating against the Muslim and favouring the non-Muslim in matters of citizenship, the concerns of the North East is that the region is poised to be affected the most.

With states like Tripura and Assam already reeling under chronic illegal migration from Bangladesh, it isn’t surprising that these two states have reached flash-points, erupting in violent street protests, opposing the Bill. Collectively, the region fears that the sad fortune of Tripura where its natives are now reduced to a minority by unabated influx from Bangladesh will be repeated in other states if CAB 2019 becomes an act.

In the BJP-ruled state of Arunachal Pradesh, the natives are anxious about the influx of Chakmas and Tibetans. In Meghalaya, the Khasis and Garos, as well as the Nagas of Nagaland, are wary of the Bengali migrants. On the other hand, the Mizos of Mizoram fear an influx of Buddhists Chakmas.

Addressing an anti-Modi rally in West Bengal, Lalduhawma of the Zoram Nationalist Party of Mizoram said, "India will no longer remain a suitable place to live for people in the North East if this bill is enacted."

In the state of Manipur, where there has been a sustained demand for a legislature to check the influx of illegal immigration and to protect the indigenous population, protests against the Bill are escalating as Manipuris see the Bill as a way of legalising migrant entries.

In a move to quell the growing anti-CAB 2019 sentiments in the state, the BJP-led Manipur government appealed to the people not to panic saying it is applying pressure on the Central Government to insert a clause in the Bill to exempt Manipur from its purview. A joint committee of several political parties has been constituted and representatives have been sent to Delhi to lobby with the Central Government not to pass the CAB 2019 in the Rajya Sabha.

Villagers taking part in anti-CAB 2019 meeting. Bona Meisnam

Namthanlong villagers taking part in anti-CAB 2019 meeting. Bona Meisnam

The state cabinet argued that the state’s population is less than 0.2 percent of India’s population with a large number of ethnic groups, each with unique dialects, customary laws and practices. Adequate constitutional protection is therefore merited to protect these small indigenous populations.

Congress, MPP and JD-U, however, are staying away from these joint efforts saying that the state cabinet’s refusal to call a special Assembly session on the matter is a glaring testimony of its insincerity on the issue. Further, the main opposition in the state asserted that the State Cabinet’s resolve to urge the Centre to give assent to the Protection of Manipur People Bill, passed by the state Assembly in 2018 to regulate the influx of migrants and to protect the interest of the indigenous people of the state, is a farce in the wake of the Lok Sabha passing the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019. Ex-chief minister and Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, Okram Ibobi has categorically asked the BJP-led state government whether a Bill passed by the state Assembly can supersede or neutralise CAB 2019.

The Congress, as well as many intellectuals, argued that the Manipur People’s Bill is not a shield against CAB 2019. Manipur People’s Bill cannot stop anyone with valid Indian ID cards from coming into Manipur. The Bill would only empower the state authorities to register non-Manipuris visiting the state and issue passes to regulate their entry and exit.

Supporters of CAB 2019, however, dismissed the growing sentiment in the North East as misplaced apprehensions and are instead hailing the Bill as legislation that would prevent illegal migrants decimating the local populations. Sceptics, on the other hand, argue that the apprehension is quite real.

While there may be ample space and resources in mainland India to accommodate and adjust to an influx of minority groups, the same is not the case for the resource-crunched North East region, inhabited by the small indigenous population, already facing the threat of being swallowed by the mainstream culture. Significantly, since it's closest to their place of origin, the region would naturally be the choice of migrants from, say Bangladesh.

Given the fact that the North East is already grappling with communal tension, insurgency, social unrest, migration and corruption, regularising the influx of more migrants would once again fuel insurgency to bounce back stronger.

Even as Manipuri students and women protestors have reached Delhi demonstrating against CAB 2019 by burning copies of the Bill outside the Parliament House, the border state is totally paralysed by the 24 hours shutdown strike called to oppose CAB 2019 by the recently-formed body called the Manipur People Against Citizenship Amendment Bill (MPACAB), a conglomerate of 64 civil society organisations, representing both the hills and plains districts of the hilly state.

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Updated Date: Feb 01, 2019 17:14:51 IST