By: Dr. Salikyu
The protests and bandhs we’ve seen in the past days and weeks in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh as well as in West Bengal is quite hypocritical on the part of the people of these states who overwhelmingly voted to bring either BJP led and/or parties that are in alliance with the BJP in both state and national general assembly elections. So, ultimately, why are they protesting now? Did we not see Amit Shah, even before the general elections, categorically announcing that the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) will be included in its election manifesto? Why are people in Assam protesting when in February of this year Amit Shah in an election campaign, in Guwahati, emphatically announced, “Assam cannot prosper without Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB)… The CAB will be added in our manifesto of the Lok Sabha elections and we are committed to take the Bill to the far reaches of Assam.” Why did the people of Assam, specifically, and northeast, in general, not do anything then? Why are they protesting only now, when it is too late? The CAB is cleared in the Rajya Sabha with 129-99 votes, after it was passed in the Lok Sabha with an overwhelming (with 293-82) vote in favour of the Bill; it is now an “Act.”
Thus, what do we make of these duplicitous events of protests and bandhs that are in no way going to reverse or undo the Citizenship Act? What were these states, its people, its elected representatives, and its MPs doing when they had three years to stop the bill from ever progressing this far when it was introduced in January of 2016? Maybe, we are all caught napping. Since the introduction of the bill, numerous states in the Northeast have had their general elections in which BJP or parties in alliance with the BJP have been elected to form the ruling government, in Assam (BJP), Manipur (BJP), Tripura (BJP), Meghalaya (NPP in alliance with the BJP), Nagaland (NDPP-BJP), Arunachal Pradesh (BJP, JD-U, and NPP).
Given these ground realities, it is certain that we are going to reap what we had sown. We were too blinded by money politics that has come to characterize much of northeast politics, specifically, and Indian politics, in general. The flow of cash from the centre, led by the BJP, shut the mouths of the state’s elected representatives and pacified various civil and students’ bodies that could have seriously impeded the Citizenship Amendment Act, CAA (formerly the CAB), from getting this far. The states’ general elections were a distraction, keeping citizens from truly comprehending and grasping the magnitude and gravity of CAA’s grave consequences upon its demography and culture.
Even though the Central government has exempted most of the Northeastern states from the CAA, these states are still not satisfied. And why should they, for such “exemption” does little to reverse the ongoing demographic changes that are already in motion, whether people in the northeast accepts it or not. For instance, in Assam, the protest rages on against CAA because it is generally argued that it makes the National Registry of Citizens (NRC) redundant, which in a way it does. But then again, who told the people of Assam to elect BJP government, a government that cares more for its survival and retention of power than to protect and preserve its culture and identity. As the saying goes they are reaping what they had sown. Tripura is another example. They overwhelmingly brought BJP to form the ruling government and now who is to be blamed for the CAA? Take also Meghalaya and Manipur, for instance, they want the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in the state. But I suggest that both these states ask Nagaland about how easy it is to by-pass the ILP, with much of the enforcing agencies (including the police, village councils, town councils, etc.) seem to be more interested in making quick money by aiding illegal immigrants and migrants without proper documentations to circumvent the system. It is an open secret in Nagaland. Indeed, the Chief Minister of Manipur, Biren Singh, seemed satisfied that ILP was extended in Manipur, how naive! Meghalaya and Manipur think ILP is enough; however, they are not alone in this.
Nagaland is another state that uncritically thinks ILP is enough. It seems to have more faith in ILP even when most people do know how ineffective and futile the system is. At least, some persons are coming to this realization only a bit too late, individuals such as Rev. Dr. Zelhou Keyho, the general secretary of Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC), who stated, “…that Inner Line Permit (ILP) alone does not make Nagaland safe.” Go to the various districts in Nagaland, there, one will see the “effectiveness” of ILP. One need not even go that far, just look at Kohima and Dimapur, these towns exude the “success of ILP.” Most civic organizations and students’ bodies are satisfied with the extension of ILP to Dimapur, how pathetic! Such acceptance on the part of these organizations and bodies in Nagaland only makes one question the genuineness and sincerity of their words. It seems they merely pretend to care about the interests of their citizens, but in reality, there are fiends, opportunists, who care more about how to make a quick buck and gain some political mileages to further their political career. If this seems hard to believe, one only needs to examine the present state’s politicians, most of whom have started their political careers from such students’ bodies and civic organizations using the same tactics. So who wouldn’t want to follow their footsteps?
If the protests and bandhs affect our daily lives, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. The panic buying of groceries, fuels, and daily perishable items, we saw throughout Nagaland in the past few days, is our doing. Even when the people in Nagaland knew that the BJP led central government was introducing a bill (in January 2016) that will fundamentally alter the demography and culture of the northeastern states, they still voted for parties (NDPP, BJP, NPP, JD-U, and, not to forget, NPF) and politicians (running as independent candidates) who will not only sell themselves but also their people and culture for the sake of winning elections and corrupting society with money. This has been the case in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tripura.
Because we saw it coming and did nothing, or are futilely doing something (for instance, a token bandh, protests, etc.) only when everything is said and done, the northeastern states must pay the price. We will pay the price for our short-sightedness, narrow interests, and useless tussling among neighbours. And the cost will be irreversible. Gradually, the culture, identity, and demography, which were already in a precarious status, will no doubt be replaced. We might as well celebrate what is left of our culture now, for who knows when we may have to begin adapting to new culture and identity.
The CAB is now an Act. The consolation prize of “exempting” with its associate “ILP” is a temporary arrangement, which the BJP government in the centre is discreetly aware of. But even this temporary arrangement, which is sadly seen by some to be quite a bastion against CAB, can hardly stem the demography change that is certain to ensue. When this happens and becomes obvious, what use is the ILP or the exemption? Some may even protest that the CAB is unconstitutional and that it goes against the very structure of the Indian Constitution. However, even a very quick glance at constitutional history tells us that the question of “structure” is at best debatable and yet to be defined. As long as the core of the constitutions are not tampered with, which the CAB does not, the question of unconstitutionality does not arise. Furthermore, the Indian constitution is neither neutral nor pristine, read Dr. Ambedkar. The constitution is apolitical or neutral and fair or just. Rather it is political (that is, “who gets what, when, and how”) and always will be. If one needs proof, study the mode and state of affairs in which the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th Amendments, among many others, were made. In other words, the prospect is unwelcoming.
Observing the course of events, an ancient proverb comes to mind that seems truer than ever, “You reap what you sow.” And because we’ve sown to please our corrupt and selfish nature, thus, from it, we will reap the demise of our identity and culture. Forget the unique history and culture that colour these northeastern states, for in due time there wouldn’t be any unique culture left to be saved. We deserve what we are about to get.