With the Rajya Sabha adjourned sine die, the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 – passed by the Lok Sabha on 8 January, lapsed, as it failed to be introduced in the Upper House.
This is being hailed as a moral victory for the northeast region of India, where the majority of the people are vehemently opposing the passage of the bill in the Parliament, to prevent it from becoming a full-fledged Act.
They’ve termed it as a legislation that proposes to turn the region into a damping ground of non-Muslim, illegal migrants from particularly Bangladesh, orchestrating a strategy to exterminate the 1.8 crores indigenous communities who inhabit the region (mostly following Christianity), by creating a demographic imbalance.
Condemnation of Section 144 in Manipur
Significantly, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, reacting to the Citizenship Amendment Bill failing to making it on the Rajya Sabha, tweeted it is a victory of the mothers, the student bodies and the CSOs, whose voices made an impression on the minds of the central BJP leaders, particularly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and BJP National President Amit Shah, who chose not to introduce the bill in the last session of the current Parliament session, feeling the mood against the Bill in the northeast, particularly Manipur.
While normalcy has returned in Manipur which saw widespread protest, road blocks and burning of effigies of BJP top leaders including the PM, condemnation still continues to pour in over the manner in which the state handled the situation, i e, by imposing the restrictive Section 144 of the CrPC.
Besides blacking out mobile data, internet access and issuing magisterial orders prohibiting transmission and re-transmission of the anti-CAB street protests and speeches, the state administration ordered the police to disperse the women vendors staging sit-in protests in the two women’s market buildings, as well as block the main street that runs adjacent to the two buildings on 11 February, just after the state CM left from Delhi to persuade him not to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha.
A ‘War-Like’ Situation & Abuse of Power
Police resorted to firing smoke bombs and tear gas on the peaceful women vendors, injuring at least five elderly women vendors. This was not all, police even used rubber bullets and smoke and tear gas bombs against street protesters, inviting criticism of using excessive force on peaceful democratic forms of protest.
Onil Elangbam, a human rights activist based in Imphal, condemned the police action and termed it undemocratic and an abuse of power by the state.
“The state has unnecessarily created a war-like situation, using excessive force on the peaceful democratic protest against a bill they perceived as a threat to identity of the community. This amounts to deprivation of human rights. In the name of containing the situation, the state shut down Internet, imposed an indefinite curfew and used tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber bullets on protesters. If this isn’t a gross violation, what is,” questioned Onil.
Criticising the use of excessive force by the police, Convener of the ‘Manipur People Against CAB’ (MANPAC), a body that spearheaded the anti-CAB protest in Manipur, Yumnamcha Dilipkumar said, “The assault on the women vendors indicates the state is acting under the Centre’s command. MANPAC strongly condemns the use of such force against peaceful democratic protest.”
Not an Absolute Victory For Anti-CAB Bloc
Commenting on the disproportionate response of the administration to prevent the by- and-large peaceful protest in Imphal valley, Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor of an English daily in Manipur said that the BJP-led state government is intolerant towards dissenting voices. “The government is paranoid. They are silencing any dissent. I think the government is on edge, and touchy, and they have been arresting anyone criticising them,” said Pradip Phanjoubam.
While it’s a relief for those who are opposing the CAB that it has lapsed, Y Dilipkumar said the victory isn’t absolute, as it is not withdrawn.
He said, while the agitation is temporarily suspended, the campaign against the racial outlook of the central government and the strategy of how to protect the interest of the indigenous communities of the northeast, will be formulated in a series of meeting to be held at the state level as well as the regional level, with stake holders from the seven states of northeast.
BJP’s ‘Plans’ Upset
It appears that the BJP is not only humbled at not being able to keep the bill alive, but also upset that one of its election campaigning strategies of polarising the Hindu and Muslim votes hasn’t worked. Given the anti-CAB voice of the region, it would also be a major task to capitalize on its previous electoral gains – which it had achieved by “uprooting” the Congress in the northeast – in the coming Lok Sabha election.
(Sunzu Bachaspatimayum is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Manipur. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)