A dangerous game

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The BJP-led government at the Centre continues to ignore the cry of North East people over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill despite numerous ongoing protests in the region since the contentious Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. In Nagaland, another 10-hours total bandh has been called on Monday against the Bill. The NDA-government’s move to push through the Bill also brings into focus the dangerous pre-elections adventurism of the BJP. In fact, the move at this stage when the general elections are just over a month away is a pointer towards the disruptive agenda it is pursuing in some parts of the country. The Bill proposes to grant Indian citizenship to persecuted migrants from the Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, Christian and Buddhist communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before 2014. The Bill, in itself is contentious for the reason that it excludes Muslims, is seen by many as another ploy of the Sangh Parivaar to legitimise the presence of Hindu Bengalis, who had reached the North Eastern Region in the aftermath of the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. The BJP’s coalition partner in the Assam government, the Asom Gana Parishad, an ethnic party at its core, has already called it quits when the Union Cabinet cleared the redrafted Bill for introduction in the Lok Sabha. It was later passed in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha is likely to take it up in the next few days. While the BJP-led governments at the centre and in Assam have half-heartedly held out the assurance that the extra burden of people is not solely the state’s, the Rajendra Agrawal-led Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report is categorical: “The Assam Government should help settle migrants especially in places which are not densely populated, thus, causing lesser impact on the demographic changes and providing succour to the indigenous Assamese people.” Thus, an alliance with the BJP became politically impossible for the ethnic party AGP. They withdrew the support while the other constituent Bodoland People’s Union (BDU) is yet to take a decision on the pullout from the government. It may be recalled that all North Eastern states had observed ‘Black Day’ earlier this year against the Bill on the call given by North East Students Organisation (NESO), while numerous form of protests are going on daily in different parts of the NE region against the Bill. The adverse impact of the Citizenship Bill in the NER does not appear to have been calculated by the Sangh Parivaar. The BJP has tried to offset the impact with two decisions aimed at appealing to the voters of Assam and Tripura, where it is pushing for its presence. The two main decisions – the formation of a committee to resurrect and operationalize the crucial Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord granting ‘constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for the Assamese people’, and the proposal to accord Scheduled Tribe status to six major communities that are currently classified as OBCs – were aimed at assuaging and assuring Assamese speakers that the party can merge Hindutva obligations with local interests. The ST status could turn Assam, which has a 34% Muslim population, into a tribal State with a majority of seats reserved for them. The committee could recommend reservation of seats in the Assembly and local bodies and in jobs for the indigenous populations. The point, however, is that for now the measures count as mass messaging. The Citizenship Bill and the ST Bill have yet to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. And the panel on Clause 6 has until July 6 to submit its report. The BJP knows that with reverses expected in the rest of the country in the Lok Sabha elections, it needs to retain, if not increase, its seats from Assam to come anywhere close to its 2014 haul. It is doing all it can ensure that, but with little thought to the ethnic and communal fault lines it is aiding and abetting. While the debate rages on the major issue of settlement of refugees on religious basis, but the BJP is definitely playing a dangerous game in the NER, which can have serious repercussions in the rest of the country.