By: Talmizur Rahman
There is no dearth of pretenders in this nation. These hypocrites often enact a drama that they were/are not aware of a certain development or truth which in turn has led/is leading to a chain of developments counter to their interests. Still more condemnable is the fact that they are often a party to the emergence of such development or truth. In respect of the highly controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), a huge section of the mighty-mouthed indigenous communities of Assam is proving to be pretenders in the superlative degree if the 2019 poll results are to be taken into consideration.
As of now, CAB in a new mould (reminds one of the time-tested proverbial truths – ‘Old wine in a new bottle’) is back on the anvil in the backdrop of an overwhelming political muscle enjoyed by the ruling dispensation in the Parliament. The result being that the people of Assam and the North-east for that matter are out on the streets crying foul over the commitment of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre to bring in the Bill in the current session of the Parliament. Interestingly, on this occasion the numbers of protesters have vastly depleted in comparison to what Assam and the NE witnessed in 2018.
Recalling the emergence of the CAB, the people may be told that in respect of Assam, the purpose of the Bill that lapsed at the end of the last Lok Sabha was to make the state the home for tens of millions of illegal Hindu immigrants (Hindu Bangladeshis when Assam is the subject matter) who have already entered the state till 2014. The reason cited is persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh. Significantly, New Delhi never raised a voice against such alleged persecution before Dhaka or international bodies like the UNO. This leads to one pondering as to how genuine of how imaginary the allegation may be. Most unfortunately, not a single son/daughter of the indigenous communities of Assam could so far dare to question Delhi on the authenticity of the allegation. It may be pertinent to state at this point that although Delhi raises the boggy of persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, Durga Puja- the greatest of the religious festivals of the Hindu Bengalis in India, Banglasesh and several other countries – passes off with all pomp & gaiety and religious fervour in Dhaka and other parts of that country year after year.
At this juncture it may be pointed out that so far as the CAB is concerned, in the case of Assam, it is the Hindu Bangladeshis that matter and not the Hindu Pakistanis or the Hindu Afghans.
The protection granted to the illegal Hindu immigrants under the Bill of 2016 was also granted, at least theoretically, to people of all other religions, except the Muslims. In one word, the Bill made it clear that only Muslims were foreigners. Further, it was clear that illegal immigrants who were Christian, Sikh or Buddhist could possibly be counted at fingertips so far as Assam or the NE was concerned.
A large section of the people of the state appear to be under the impression that the Bill lapsed in 2018 because the huge protest against it in Assam and other NE states around the time it was under consideration in the Parliament. The people of the state perhaps need to be told a million times the hard historical truth that the Bill failed to sail through the Parliament as the opposition parties that commanded majority in the Rajya opposed the Bill. Another bitter truth is that if the people are ignorant of the law or the Parliamentary system, the blame must squarely be shouldered by the people themselves.
So far as the upcoming CAB in its new version is concerned, the fundamental essence, in all likelihood, would be the same as the CAB of 2016. If the aggressive Hindutva ideology/philosophy of the RSS-BJP is to be the yardstick, it seems to be an absolute certainty that, as did the earlier CAB, the upcoming version of the Bill would provide for granting ‘mati & bheti’ for legal settlement of hoards of Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants who have entered Assam upto 2014; who knows if the year 2014 is extended further to 2018 or 2019 or even into the future years. While other provisions of the Bill may be a matter of speculation at this stage, it is as certain as every sunrise ends with sunset that in the next step these Hindu Bangladeshis would attain citizenship of India. If the mighty-mouthed statements made by the BJP heavyweights is are to be taken into account, the only difference between the earlier Bill and the proposed one may be that on these occasion the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution may not be touched and the states with Inner Line Permit may be exempted from the purview of the Bill. However, all such statements by political high-ups may be taken with a large lump of salt.
The ruling BJP dispensation at the Centre has already made several announcements that a new version of the CAB would be introduced in the Parliament in the Winter Session. On this count, by no stretch of imagination can the BJP be blamed. Even before the Election Commission made the announcement for the 2019 Parliamentary polls, the ruling BJP declared in unambiguous terms that the party would bring in the CAB once again if the party was to be voted to power. Again, all through the election campaign in Assam, the saffron heavyweights beginning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then party president Amit Shah and others announced the same in numerous meeting. Further, one of the most important features of the BJP’s 2019 poll manifesto was the promise to bring in the CAB.
It was in the backdrop of such a no hide-and-seek electoral reality that the Lok Sabha polls were held in 2019 and the indigenous people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP in upper Assam and south Assam. In middle Assam the gains made by the saffronists and the opposition parties were almost even; it was only in lower and western Assam that the BJP failed to put up an impressive performance. In terms of seats 9 out of 14 seats were bagged by the BJP while percentage wise BJP won approximately 64.3 percent of the total Lok Sabha seats in Assam.
The promise to bring in the CAB constituted a very important component of the BJP’s poll manifesto so far as Assam and the NE states were concerned. It was almost as good as a referendum at the polls for the people; and the people extended whole hearted support.
Now that the BJP is all set to bring in the CAB, in the fitness of things the people of Assam and the NE have virtually lost all rights to oppose the same the day they voted overwhelmingly for the BJP with BJP’s poll manifesto prominently in front of them in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
However, as of now, protest against the upcoming CAB is brewing up in Assam and some other NE states. Significantly, mighty-mouthed social activists, student leaders and their organisations that went into hibernation and absolute silence when the BJP heavyweights made repeated announcements on re-introducing CAB and proudly displayed its manifesto are beginning to reappear once again with mighty roar against the upcoming CAB. May one have the audacity to ask as to why these leaders and organisations disappeared from the scene immediately after the Election Commission announced the holding of the Lok Sabha polls. While all through the election campaign, the BJP leaders (heavyweights to village leaders) had gone hammer and tongs that the CAB would be brought in; the so called mighty social activists and student leaders chose not to utter a word against the CAB. In fact nobody quite knows where those leaders disappeared. May one ask as to what ‘magic’, ‘mantra’ or ‘management strategy’ initiated possibly by political big wigs caused these so called leaders of social and students’ organisations to vanish throughout the election period. Indeed ‘manage’ is a great term in the political arena of India; be it big dam or CAB, almost anything and everything can be ‘managed’. One is only reminded of Thomas Hardy’s watchword in ‘Jude the Obscure’, “Money matter works better”.
Be that as it may, politics is essentially serious business and not fun and frolic. It was in the early eighties that the former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu equated the Assam Movement against foreigners to a picnic. “Assam Movement is like a picnic”, he said. Almost four decades since then, the Assam Accord which was the final outcome of the movement has proved to be a huge zero. History has clearly vindicated Jyoti Basu’s ‘picnic’ statement.
It is high time that the people of Assam realised that politics and picnic are poles apart. Voting for or against issues like CAB at the polls is a highly serious business and not fun, frolic and gaiety like a picnic. One cannot eat the cake and have it. Likewise, the people must accept the hard truth that they cannot rush to the polling booth and vote in favour of the CAB and soon after run to the streets and raise slogans against the CAB amidst a picnic-like milieu.
As of now, with the BJP, its allies and supporting parties exercising over two-thirds majority control in the Lok Sabha and almost the required majority in the Rajya Sabha, the CAB becoming an Act is as good as an absolute reality. From that standpoint, the people of Assam have already missed the bus. Their pro-CAB representatives are already in the Parliament in huge number, fully geared up to ensure a safe passage of the Bill. Rightly or wrongly, the people must accept the almost certain reality of the emergence of the CAB as an Act as a matter of their own making without blaming the BJP.
On the other hand, the protests against the CAB that are beginning to surface could very much be a blessing in disguise for the BJP government. The way so many leaders opposed to CAB could be ‘managed’ to go into absolute silence prior to and during the 2019 polls, one never knows if there could be another ‘management strategy’ or ‘mantra’ at work for the beginning of a long period of protest against the CAB in order to keep the attention of the people away from the real issues. It is now clear as daylight that an accelerating economic slowdown is dragging the nation towards an economic eclipse. The BJP government has so far miserably failed to check the slowdown despite all high-sounding rhetoric. Further, if this decline continues at this rate unchecked for some more time, an economic depression may come to stay according to some experts. Hence, the government also needs some other issues to divert the people’s attention from the down to earth reality like mounting unemployment, loss of job, sky-rocketing inflation and such other failures of the government.
Meanwhile, a political drama on seeking opinions of the stakeholders on the CAB has already begun in the national capital. A similar drama was enacted by the Joint Parliamentary committee (JPC) after the earlier CAB was already tabled in the Parliament. One should not forget that after much hue and cry in Assam and the NE, a JPC team arrived in Assam and held a one-day hearing for 30 districts of the Brahmaputra Valley in Guwahati and a two-day hearing for 3 districts of the Barak Valley. And that was justice BJP style! By the same vein one may make almost a certain guess as to which way the present rounds of talks being held by the Union Home Minister with stakeholders would finally land up. In this context the Union Defence Minister has already asserted before the BJP Parliamentary Board that those opposed to the Bill have failed to convince the Centre about their ground of opposition to the Bill. The Defence Minister’s statement has perhaps already cast the final dye on the on-going drama of talks with the stakeholders. While numbers in the Parliament are paramount in the passage of a Bill in the House, any observer may feel with conviction that rubbishing all opinions, protests, talks and what have you, the ruling party would surge ahead in the Central Legislature like a torpedo and get a CAB of its choice passed, leaving all protesters or so called stakeholders biting the dust.
One may thus sum up that CAB is a hard reality while a period of seemingly much milder protests has already begun. Are these protests also enveloped in a ‘picnic-like’ milieu as during the Assam Movement against foreigners? Today the cruel joke of several decades is – who are foreigners? The BJP has a different answer based on religion. The people of Assam may be told that the BJP believes and practices serious business-like politics based on electoral gains. Picnic has no place in BJP’s brand of politics unlike the ‘Jai Aai Asom’ brand.
By: Talmizur Rahman