Saturday, April 17, 2021

Unconvincing assurance

After passing a Bill that would irreparably hurt not only our rights but also threaten our very existence and survival, as also create schisms amongst indigenous communities here as this Bill would reduce the size of the economic and political pie with the influx of “new citizens” from neighbouring countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assures the Northeast, “Your rights won’t be hurt”, after unrest over the citizenship bill. Hindustan Times reported on January 9; “Speaking on two important bills – Quota and Citizenship – passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that rights of all sections are secure and these bills will have no impact on them” and quoted him saying “I want to assure the people of Assam and Northeast that their rights will not be hurt after passage of the Citizenship Bill,” at a function in Maharashtra’s Solapur.” On January 8, the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill that seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Quota Bill, which provides 10% quota for the general category poor in jobs and education, which has the potential to adversely affect Dalits and tribal people. But because every action has a reaction, perhaps what the BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre failed to appreciate is that the Citizenship Amendment Bill has brought the entire Northeast together in a unity and show of strength never witnessed since Independence. The Quota Bill is also likely to cement this togetherness further because this region is home to one of the largest groups of Schedule Tribes in the country. The ramifications of January 8’s bandh in the entire Northeast against the Citizenship Bill will reverberate loudly for a long time with likely revisits and relooks at the hitherto imposed narratives of the economics and politics of this region and usher in changed perceptions and perspectives thereof. When the Asam Sahitya Sabha reportedly said it would convene a meeting of all the literary bodies of different tribes of the State to discuss the crisis situation and to decide the next course of action and when personalities like Zubeen Garg, with a huge fan following across the Northeast, reportedly threatens to launch a movement against the Bill if the situation does not change even after a week, obviously the souls of not just the political class, student organizations and non-governmental organizations but also writers, poets, musicians and personalities from other visual and performing arts ~ and sports persons too ~ have been stirred. At the moment, perhaps the “main action” is in Assam but in no time souls of other Northeastern states would also be stirred. In fact, the process has started as witnessed by the bandh across the region on Tuesday. It has been said before and needs to be underscored again ~ the entire region needs to stand together otherwise it will sink together. Right from the time of the British Raj, the diversities and differences of this region were overly focused to create disunity here ~ and along those lines, political borders were drawn turning neighbouring communities into strangers. We also focused more on the political borders than on our shared commonalities and interests. It was then easy to be over-lords of “divided spoils” but now we see that irrespective of our differences and diversities, all of us are in the same quandary of either protesting threats or pretending they don’t exist. Consider the fact that the illegal Bangladeshi influx has stopped being the state of Assam’s problem alone over almost forty years ago ~ and it wasn’t our religion they assailed but our economic survival and political capital. Then there is also the crucial issue of abiding by our secular constitutional norms ~ ignoring which, we imperil our own citizenship. Don’t forget the ghar waapsi movement – for all minorities are always vulnerable. If all refugees seeking citizenship in India are granted citizenship in consonance with constitutional norms, there wouldn’t be any apprehensions but because one community of citizenship seekers is excluded in the Citizenship Bill, the motive of this Bill is highly suspect. Shifting dates to grant citizenship to particular communities further substantiate these apprehensions. Much need to be discoursed on the issue but for now suffice it to say that though our Prime Minister may assure us that “our rights won’t be hurt”, what was his Government doing since it came to power in 2014 and threats to our survival remained unabated?