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Can India Afford The Indian Citizen Amendment Act (CAA)?

Can India Afford The Indian Citizen Amendment Act (CAA)?

Col NN Bhatia (Retd)

Preamble declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic. The objectives stated by the Preamble are to secure justice, liberty, equality to all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain unity and integrity of the nation.

The Citizen’s Amendment Bill (CAB) embryo delivered CAA this week passed by granting citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who faced persecution in their countries along with turmoil in the strategic, underdeveloped Northeast region of the country feeling alienated from the heartland for mishandling and diluting our secular fabric as enshrined in the constitution. The passing of the Act provoked widespread violent protests across several parts of India especially the Northeast where Assam Rifles and Army were requisitioned in Dibrugarh, Guwahati, Morigaon Naogaon, Sonitpur and Tinsukia in Assam and Agartala in Tripura and Shillong in Meghalaya were very tense and curfew has been imposed with shutting down of the social media intermittently and troops have been deployed for the maintenance of law and order, peace and tranquility. Road, rail and air means of communication have been adversely affected crippling day to day life.

What is CAB?

The CAB seeks to amend the definition of illegal Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have lived in India without documentation for 6 years  will be granted fast-track Indian citizenship against 12 years of residency that had been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalisation in the past.

What is Assam Accord & why Assam/ Northeast in general unhappy with CAB?

There was unusual rise in voters for the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha by poll in 1979, suspected rightly due to influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. It led to a massive and violent agitation in which 885 people were killed over six years. The stir ended after the Centre signed the Assam Accord in 1985. The accord put the date of detection and deportation of foreigners as March 25 1971 which for other states was 1951. CAA now has a new cut-off date of 2014 violating the accord. The movement is getting volatile in the entire Northeast (NE) region with spontaneous participation of students in various sensitive, strategic, economically poor tribal states. Protesters have destroyed public properties. In Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Naogaon, Tripura and Meghalaya are in a standstill while BJP led CM Sarbanand Sonowal has not been able to convince people of hidden Hindutya vote bank agenda against secularism and equality enshrined in the constitution. The specific concern in the NE states is the preservation of indigeneity. Sea of protestors in anguish assembled in the streets of every big and small town clashing with police against the draconian CAA that spread to other NE states; many ruled by the BJP or its coalitions. Around dozen police officials have been hurriedly transferred in Assam over CAA created unrest while the Army has issued advisory in the NE region against spreading of disinformation and fake news.   Police firing tear gas shells to disperse violent mob CAB protests in Tripura   Tripura though predominantly is Hindu tribal state, Hindu Bengali migrants from erstwhile East Pakistan and Bangladesh has been so rampart that the indigenous tribal population as on date has been reduced to 30 per cent today. Agriculture is primary sector of the economy of Tripura. More than 75% of the state's total workforce is dependent on agriculture for their subsistence. More illegal immigrants getting citizenship will adversely affect land holding and dilute tribal social and cultural fabric. The local tribes feel that all jobs in Tripura have not been taken by the Muslim Bengalis, but by the Hindu Bengalis who have become part of the administration. We have lost the character of Tripura. Our language is no longer recognised. There are no jobs. We are living in the jungles. There are no benefits. Several MLAs, bureaucrats, ministers and people holding constitutional posts are from Bangladesh. Most chief ministers have been outsiders and the only tribal Dasarath Deb is already in his late seventies.

What is National Registry of Citizens (NRC)?

The NRC was a promise made in the Assam Accord to identify and deport foreigners, evidently denying citizenship to Hindus and local tribes. The protesters say CAA will make NRC redundant and bestow citizenship on illegal immigrants which is denied by the Hindutya elements of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in which Asom Gana Parishad is an ally of the BJP led with 14 assembly seats. Much to the discomfort of the local Assamese population, it is felt that large influx of Bangladeshi Muslims settled in Assam under the leadership of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal formed political party the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) which also won 14 state assembly seats and the CAA encouraging migration of non-Muslims in the NE will increase population, eat up meager resources, upset culture, social and religious equilibrium and encourage unemployment and crime. Assam rightly fears implementation of CAA as except in Bengalis dominated Barak Valley around Silchar, people in other parts fear CAB will lead to hordes of Hindus from Bangladesh swamping indigenous communities, burdening resources and threatening their language, culture, tradition, economy and giving rise to crimes.

Assam is witnessing one of the most violent protests by the people in its history with three railway stations, post office, bank, bus terminus and many other public properties being set ablaze or totally damaged. At least three people have been killed during protests. The Digboi Refinery in Assam has been closed and the Guwahati unit is operating at minimal production while Oil India Ltd (OIL) has been forced to shut LPG production and its crude oil production has dropped considerably and prolonged protests would lead to fuel/energy crises and inflation. Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) has seen up to 25 per cent drop in production, and gas supplies snapped, leading to shutting down of Assam gas cracker project. Many passengers have got struck at Guwahati airport and numerous other railway stations.

The demand for ILP has been growing in Meghalaya since the Centre announced it for Manipur during the debate on the CAB in the Parliament. There were wide protest in front of Raj Bhawan and many locals were injured in clashes with police.. The Meghalaya cabinet had approved the amendment Meghalaya Residents, Safety and Security Act, 2016, which seeks mandatory registration of outsiders for entering the state after the NRC in Assam.

Protests in the other parts of the country

In West Bengal agitators resorted to violence and arson at railway stations and thoroughfares across the state, seeking immediate revocation of the law. People in the minority-dominated districts of rural Howrah, Murshidabad, Birbhum, parts of Burdwan and 24 Pargana in North Bengal and rural Howrah hit the streets raising slogans against the Modi government and attacked local BJP workers and leaders, prompting the saffron camp to allege that the attacks were masterminded by the ruling TMC. In border district Murshidabad protesters set fire to part of the Beldanga Railway Station and thrashed RPF personnel. Violent agitations set 15 buses on fire and torched portions of a railway station complex and blocked traffic on NH2 (Kolkata-Delhi NH6 (Kolkata-Mumbai) and NH2 (Kolkata-Delhi) NH 34 (North-South Bengal).

A large number of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind(JUH) protesters, at Jantar Mantar on 13 Dec 2019 described CAA as ‘anti constitutional’ and divisive, and demanded its immediate withdrawal and carried placards with slogans like ‘Save-Constitution, Withdraw CAB’, ‘Division on basis of religion unacceptable’ and ‘CAB nahin Rozgar Chahiye’.  Many Jamia Millia Islamia University students held a protest against the draconian law at the university 50 students were detained following the clash, after the protestors were stopped at the varsity gate while the Congress party organised protests in Seelampur area of East Delhi. There have been protests in Goa and Trivandrum and other parts of the country too.

National and International Repercussions

  • Chief ministers of West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh said they will not implement the law. Police with batons and firing tear gas clashed with hundreds of students in New Delhi. Protesters set fire to placards in Amritsar. Rallies were held in Kolkata, Chennai, Kerala and Gujarat.
    Home Minister Amit Shah has cancelled his visit to two Northeastern states- Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh on 15 & 16 Dec 2019 amid protests against CAA. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs had to also postpone its trip.
  • Many question the secular fabric of Indian democracy saying that while illegal Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are being given citizenship, why the Tamil Hindu from Sri Lanka are being discriminated? Many question plights of Rohingyas Muslims being pushed out of Myanmar and on humanitarian grounds they be also considered for the Indian citizenship.
  •  Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on 12 Dec 2019 cancelled their visits to India protesting against CAA.
  • The annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe scheduled from December 15-17 in Guwahati has been postponed.
  • While the US and France have issued travel alert, the Maldivian Government has stated it was India’s internal matter.
  • The UN human rights office in Geneva called on India respect human rights and peaceful demonstrations and protests.
  • While former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MLA from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province Baldev Singh fearing death escaped to India and is now living with his family in Khanna (Punjab) has welcomed the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and Sindi illegal Hindu migrants living in Majnu ka Tila in Delhi celebrated passing of the Act, Pakistan PM Imran Khan said it was extension of Hindutya agenda of the BJP government and the RSS.
  • Andre Carson, Muslim –American Democrat Congressman from Indiana has stated that passing of CAA is an attempt to reduce minority Muslims into second rate citizens.
  • Both Afghanistan and Bangladesh have very cordial relations. With India and dislike being equated with Pakistan which is hostile to India. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has commented on CAA stating it could weaken India’s historic character as tolerant secular country and rejected allegations that minorities in Bangladesh were facing persecution. Meanwhile, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen warned that India is secular and it cannot afford to have Sharia.
  • The world media has carried out articles on CAB/CAA. The New York Times and The Washington Post had printed articles on CAB being passed by the Lok Sabha.  Al Jazeera has written, ‘The bill brings sweeping changes to India's 64-year-old citizenship law by giving citizenship to "persecuted" minorities - Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians-from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ The Independent has said, ‘India's ruling Hindu nationalist government has won parliamentary approval for a controversial law that would make it easier for refugees of certain faiths from neighbouring countries to gain citizenship, but not Muslims.’
  • Much liberals and secular fear, with violence over CAB, Modi Government has compromised national economy and security and implementation of CAA is nothing but vote bank Hindutya politics to garner Hindu votes.
  • According to Mail Today dated13 Dec 2019, Maharashtra cadre 1997 batch IPS officer Abdur Rehman resigned from service stating that CAB was against the basic structure of the Constitution, dividing people on the basis of religion. He said, it would disrupt law and order situation in country and people will suffer. The bill names Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs but not Muslims polarizing Hindu vote bank. Rohingya Muslims fear exclusion and urge the government to include them also for granting Indian citizenship.
  • Many feel CAA was passed by the BJP Government to divert attention of the masses from economic failures of the   government due to demonetization, faulty GST, fall in GDP, increasing crimes against women, not fulfilling promises made to people below poverty line who form major vote bank of the BJP and poor governance.

Both Mizoram and Nagaland in the NE had gone through violent insurgencies seeking independence. The CAB saw protests in 3M states- Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya in January 2019 but epic centre of the protests shifted to Assam and Tripura on its becoming CAA. Manipur has a long history of armed insurgency and violence as Nagas demand Nagalim or a greater Nagaland which incorporates Naga-majority hill districts of Manipur as well as parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Burma as parts of Nagaland and CAA can fuel such demands further.  In Meghalaya the tension between the locals and Punjabi communities stems from a long-standing demand from sections of the Khasi society to evict "illegal settlers" from the area and CAA can take an ugly turn. Arunachal Pradesh though peaceful has long disputed border with hostile China that should keep worrying our political masters.  

 Many opposition parties are seeking redressal of their grievances from the Supreme Court so that secular values enshrined in our constitution are not diluted and are sure that Supreme Court will struck CAA down. The centre and all state governments have to decide either no illegal migrant is granted Indian citizenship or it should be opened to all communities and countries on humanitarian issues keeping political, demographic, security, cultural, social and economic integrity of the country as the prime issues. The NE states are as much part of India as Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, UP or Kerala or for that matter any other state of the Union.

Let us hope that though our constitution’s preamble written by our forefathers may have been forgotten by the present crop of politicians, but they are not lost and Supreme Court will roll back CAA.

Amen…

[Note Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editor or the publisher of the web site and parent organisation]

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