The BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, is heading towards passing the much-debated Citizenship Amendment Bill despite protests in North East India -- the saffron party’s newly built political bastion. The boldness of the saffron party to obliterate the protest of its electorates stems from the absence of any political party in the region to take on its might.
However, this nearly falls in the same genre of mistake the Congress made in the region during its golden days in the region.
In the last three years, the BJP marched into the rough political terrain of North East India by establishing a connect with the masses and winning their trust. Though it may sound counter-intuitive to many, it is true that the path to the EVMs in the region is through the hearts of its people. BJP and the RSS paved this path with sheer grit and hard work.
“There has always been an allegation that the voices of the people of the region had never been heard by the Union government. But in the past few years, BJP seemed to have tried to get closer to the people of the region by making sure that Union ministers visit the region regularly and listen to people. But the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill would only ensure that we are back to square one,” said Sanjib Hajong, president of the All Assam Hajong Students Union.
Since the BJP formed its first government in Assam in 2016, the party has made right noises and choices to appear like an outfit that sides with the indigenous people of the region. Be its decision to anoint Sarbananda Sonowal, an Assamese sub-nationalist with a tribal background as the state’s chief minister or be its support to the NRC agenda, the moves produced the desired results for the party in the region.
“We cannot deny the fact that Sarbananda Sonowal’s image as an Assamese sub-nationalist leader had a major role in BJP’s victory in 2016 Assam Assembly polls. But passing the CAB would amount to the breaking of the trust and will finally result into disenchantment,” said Prafulla Hafila, advisor All Dimasa Students' Union.
On account of its pro-indigenous stand in the region, the saffron party even managed to strike an understanding with indigenous Assamese Muslim groups also, much to the surprise of many North Indian political pundits.
In fact, the saffron party, to an extent fulfilled the long-felt need in the region, of a national political party that speaks of the issues concerning northeasterners.
Illegal immigration, a major issue concerning the people in the region which was earlier put on the backburner by the Left-liberal governments and chided as anti-Muslim agenda by Left-liberal intelligentsia turned into a national agenda during BJP regime. This certainly helped to a great extent in bridging the gap between the region and mainland India.
“Had the Congress listened to the demands of the indigenous population it would have remained the most powerful political party in the region. But it had different plans. It’s politics very often was seen hovering around the issues raised by the immigrant Muslims. As a result, the Assamese Muslims who are the sons of the soil remained neglected,” said Hafizul Ahmed, president of the Goriya Moriya Desi Parishad, an organisation representing the demands of the native Muslims in Assam.
It is to be noted here that the Assam movement or the demand for NRC never had a tint of sectarianism in them. The movement was about identifying and deporting all the illegal immigrants irrespective of their religion, which they saw as a way to keep the regions unique cultural heritage and political rights intact.
“The issue of illegal immigration cannot be seen through the lens of any religion. For both Hindu and Muslim illegal immigrants have encroached land reserved for the tribes and made the people minority in their own land. We are not against any community but against illegal immigration,” said Hafila.
“The Assam Movement received support from outfits of different ideological hues. Even Hindutva groups also supported the movement. They were well within their rights to support a movement. But the movement workers and leaders were never driven by any religious agenda,” said Ahmed.
But the Citizenship Amendment Bill which seeks to provide citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists who migrated illegally to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan revived the old insecurities when it was tabled in the Lok Sabha last year. The ruling dispensation refrained itself from tabling the bill in the Rajya Sabha due to massive protest that erupted in the region.
Carrying the agenda of the Citizenship Amendment Bill forward to the Winter Session of Parliament would only make the efforts to win the trust of the people look like an eyewash. It is not certain whether this would show its impact on the electoral results in the upcoming elections in the region. But ignoring the issue of illegal immigration was certainly a major mistake committed by the Congress earlier when it had undisputed sway in the region.
“We still hope that the BJP would come out as a party far different from the Congress and will listen to the demand of the indigenous people and would not grant citizenship to any illegal immigrant irrespective of the applicant’s religious affiliation. But if BJP comes out as a party for which the issues of the illegal immigrants are more important than that of the indigenous then how is it going to claim a difference in Assam?” asked Ahmed.
He also said that Assamese society is not divided on religious lines and hence accepting Hindu Bangladeshis and rejecting Muslim Bangladeshis would not help.
Significantly, the Centre is in the fag end of the peace talks going on with a number of insurgent groups in the region. Reviving the old insecurities is perhaps not the right thing to do in the present context.
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2019 15:19:46 IST