India at Partition chose not to define itself as a Hindu country, to be guided by Hindu law but by the tenets of a secular democracy where all religions have equal weightage and are given the freedom to propagate their faith. Although the word secular was not part of our preamble in 1950, it was inserted in 1976 (albeit for different reasons). Unlike East and West Pakistan, we are not governed by Islamic law. So to speak about giving citizenship to people from three countries on the basis of their religion, violates the secular nature of the Constitution. Of course for good measure, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists et al were also added to the list but essentially the Bill wants to consolidate Hindus and the Hindu vote bank.
Bangladesh has a Hindu population of 1.13 crore. That’s a substantial vote bank. But where will this number settle? They obviously will choose the North East where they feel a sense of kinship of language and culture and because it is easier for them to revisit the country of their origin when they feel a sense of déjà vu. The Finance Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma has got his maths figured out and said that if Bengali Hindus vote BJP in 17 constituencies then Assam is sorted out for his Party. This is the limited vision of politicians who don’t care about the future of their states or the country since they have the option of migrating to better, more developed countries.
Union Home Minister Raj Nath Singh has tried to assuage our feelings by stating that our concerns in the region about a demographic change will be taken care of. Mr Raj Nath Singh must come and live here to understand what influx from Bangladesh actually looks like and how it plays out in real life and how tribal communities such as those of Tripura are now a poor majority of just 30% of the population. In 1901 they numbered about 53 % of the population. But the BJP could not care a hoot as long as they are able to capture power and with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 the Party has proved yet again that it does not care about the future of ethnic minorities. One only hopes that this Bill will not pass muster in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP does not yet have a majority.
The intent of the Citizenship Bill 2019 is of course clear to those who can read the signs of the times. The BJP is desperate to return to power and will use all tactics including that of giving reservation to forward caste Hindus. But the Congress is no better. It has supported this populist move and ensured that the Reservation Bill got smooth passage. Now states like Assam are in greater turmoil than most with the Barak Valley and the Brahmaputra Valley at daggers drawn over the Citizenship Bill. Those who support the Bill argue that if Assam has given sanctuary to Muslims for so long (including those that have come from across the border) and continues to do so even today then what’s the problem in legitimising the citizenship of large numbers of Hindus from Bangladesh who are persecuted for their religious beliefs. Not enough studies have been done as to whether Hindus in Bangladesh are indeed persecuted. Going by the number of Durga Puja mandaps you would not think so but yes people cross over to India for economic reasons than for any other consideration.
Trinamool MP Saugata Roy has rightly termed the Citizenship Bill “divisive” and “insidious” and stated that it goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution. The Bill indeed violates the secular nature of the Indian Constitution and after the NDA Government came to power in 2014, there has been a systematic assault on beef eating communities some of whom have been lynched by the lunatic fringe. This does not bode well for a secular country. But the moot point is whether India under the NDA is still a secular nation. Perhaps this is because the Indian Constitution does not define the relationship between religion and state. This continues to be a grey area.
When people are put in a corner they retaliate in the most absurd manner. The naked protest outside Parliament on December 7 by members of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) from Assam which is led by Akhil Gogoi shows the desperation of a people who see the looming threat of their living space being invaded by people from across the border. It goes without saying that the maximum migration will be from Bangladesh and that the seven North Eastern states would bear the brunt of this migration. This vote-bank politics is actually spawned by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which defines the BJPs ideological moorings.
That India should feel for Hindus persecuted elsewhere but fail to reinstate the Kashmiri Pandits who were ousted from their hearths and homes gives out the lie about the intent of the Citizenship Bill 2019. Most countries, including developed western nations, today believe in securing their borders and putting a stop to more refugees who seek sanctuary because of wars and violence in their home countries. They are increasingly adopting protectionist policies. The US is keen to seal its borders with Mexico. Whether that step is right or wrong is debatable but Donald Trump was voted to do that as a prime agenda because Americans are losing out jobs to migrant workers.
The situation is similar in the North Eastern states with small populations and very little job creation and virtually no industrial growth. Why do we forget that large sections of youth from the region are job seekers elsewhere because jobs closer home are no longer available. With the coming in of refugees there will be tremendous pressure on land and resources. Hence the resistance to the Bill! Let us not forget that the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are agitated at the growing number of Chakmas entering the state and seeking citizenship. Mizoram has a problem with the Reangs/Brus and Burmese interlopers. Dimapur in Nagaland is being inundated by what they terms as ‘IBIs’ (Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants) Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam see the influx as a very real threat to their demography, culture, economy and social bonds.
In Meghalaya the bandh sponsored by the North East Students’ Organisation came after a gap of four years. The Meghalaya High Court had in 2015 directed that newspapers should not carry news of a bandh, strike, hartal et al by any organisation. This time the people across the seven states seem to have converged on the need to show solidarity against the Citizenship Bill 2019 which threatens to derail turn their homeland into a Lebensraum and one over which they would not have any control.
In all of this, however is the role of history in the carving out of borders from hitherto borderless homelands, post 1947. Today those borders have hardened and people of one ethnic origin, culture and language are citizens of two different nations. Across the globe people have usually migrated to safer zones with better economic prospects. In this region too this migration has continued since the Partition in 1947. And it bears mention that prior to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Hindus did suffer persecution in East Pakistan. Many of them in fact were granted safe sanctuary in India. But this continued migration has a bearing especially on finite resources like land. It deprives genuine Indian citizens of their due.
The crux of the matter is that the rest of India will talk and commiserate with their Hindu brethren from Bangladesh but will not share this population of religious migrants. At the end of the day it is the North Eastern states that will have to carry the load. And this is not a load that any of the seven states can carry or would wish to carry. And to burden a region that has just about come out of its battle with itself to chart out a new, more progressive course is a cruel joke. May the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 languish in the Rajya Sabha in the same manner that the Women’s Reservation Bill has done and which all political parties have conveniently forgotten.