Debate: Why Has Citizenship Bill Become a Flashpoint in Northeast?

Debate: Why Has Citizenship Bill Become a Flashpoint in Northeast?

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The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) – which prescribes who can be a citizen of India – has caused widespread protests across the Northeast region of the country. In the latest, Bhupen Hazarika’s son has rejected the Bharat Ratna conferred to his father, to mark his protest against the proposed legislation.

Chief ministers from the region, including those belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have opposed the Bill.

BloombergQuint’s Tamanna Inamdar was in conversation with senior journalist Karma Paljor and author Sanjoy Hazarika to understand why the Bill become a flashpoint in the Northeast and how will it affect the political gains that the BJP had made there.

Also Read : Curfew, Injured Protesters: Manipur in Chaos Over Citizenship Bill

What Is the Basic Concern?

Northeast expert and author Sanjoy Hazarika said that the people of the region feel that illegal immigrants should be dealt according to law, not religion.

“For one thing, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is specifically for people from the six minority groups from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have come to India. It is said to be for people who have fled religious persecution, leaving out Muslims. The concern for people in Assam, and other places is that, a person who has come illegally should be dealt according to law not as per religion.”
Sanjoy Hazarika, Author

Also Read : Citizenship Bill ‘Undermines’ Bhupen Hazarika’s Beliefs, Says Son

He also pointed out that the Bill goes against the Assam Accord which has been in place for the last 33 years.

“For 33 years, the Assam Accord has been in place. The cut of date for citizenship, according to it, was set as 25 March 1971. Those who came after that point needed either to be detected and deported. This has not been an effective method but it is an accord that has been in place. Suddenly you (Centre) are saying 2014 is the cut off date.”
Sanjoy Hazarika, Author

‘People Fear Being Overrun’

Senior journalist and East Mojo Editr-in-Chief Karma Paljor asserted that the people of the region are angry because they fear being “overrun.”

He said that opposition for the Bill came not just from Opposition parties but even from BJP chief ministers like Prema Khandu and Biren Singh, who have said that the Bill was against the people of the state.

“In the Northeast, it is not about people from a particular religion. It is about foreigners, illegal migrants and hundreds of people who want to come in (India). It is easy to get identity card in India. This is what people fear. That the foreigners will change the entire demographics of the region. The entire Northeast is coming together for the first time and are speaking in one tone.”
Karma Paljor, Senior Journalist

Also Read : Meghalaya CM Says Will Quit NDA If Citizenship Bill Passed in RS

IS CAB a Political Misstep?

But is the passing of the CAB likely to impact the political gains made by the BJP in the region, since 2014?

Yes, feel both Paljor and Hazarika.

“You can see the impact. BJP-ruled state Manipur is on a shut down. The chief minister of Meghalaya told me that the Bill will harm their own interest (if the Bill was passed). You are hitting at the constituencies of the allies and then expect them to back you. There is no dialogue (with the stakeholders).”
Sanjoy Hazarika, Senior Journalist

Paljor, on the other hand, feels that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reached out to the people of the region like no one else, it can all be undone.

“The prime minister has reached out to the region like no other. He is here (Northeast) every month. But it can all be undone with one step. Their own chief ministers are saying that it could harm their political prospects.”
Karma Paljor, Senior Journalist

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