Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday held a series of meetings with representatives, including chief ministers, from Northeastern states on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019. Almost all those who met Shah, from politicians to student groups and other civil society members, opposed the Bill in its present form, and expressed the fear that it would change forever the demography of their regions, and destroy the local culture, sources said.
The Home Minister on his part, has assured the civil society groups and political representatives that the ethno-cultural concerns of all stakeholders in the Northeast would be addressed, and that the Bill would provide protection to such regions and states where the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is applicable, and autonomous administration has been granted under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
The CAB, which aims to make it easier for non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to obtain Indian citizenship, is likely to be introduced in the ongoing session of Parliament.
The consultations with the Northeastern states will continue until December 3; the House will be in session until December 13.
Among those who met the Home Minister were Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his senior colleague Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, leaders from Assam’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), members of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), and several civil society groups from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Meghalaya.
Shah had met representatives from Tripura and Mizoram on Friday. He will meet leaders from Nagaland on December 3.
“Most delegates were of the view that the CAB in its current form is not acceptable. Honourable Home Minister said the government is preparing a new draft which will preserve the rights and privileges of the Northeast people. There will be a cut-off date also. New draft of CAB will be followed by a pan-Indian NRC (National Register of Citizens),” Sarma told The Sunday Express.
As reported by The Indian Express on Saturday, Sarma said the states which have the ILP regime, and the areas under the Sixth Schedule and other special provisions, will be exempted. “With the cited exemptions, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and 25 per cent of Assam areas will get exemptions. However, this may not be 100 per cent exemption,” Sarma said.
Former Arunachal CM Nabam Tuki, who met Shah on Saturday, told reporters after the meeting: “We oppose Citizenship Amendment Bill because, if illegal immigrants are given citizenship based on religion, their population will spread across many states. Which state will give them land?”
Sources said the AIUDF expressed serious concern over the CAB, while the AAMSU urged Shah to ensure that the amended law does not violate the Assam Accord in any manner. AAMSU said it had expressed its views on the Bill in its submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee in 2016. “It was categorically stated that the provisions of historical Assam Accord, 1985 shall be kept intact and the process of NRC shall be completed in time bound manner. AAMSU reiterates the same stand…,” it said in its representation to the Home Minister.
Pramod Boro of the All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) said: “We expressed our concern to the Home Minister from tribal point of view. We are facing so many problems in protecting the identity and culture of our people. Migration has been taking place in this region since many years… There is always a threat to our identity and culture… If some populous group is regularised through this Bill, it will create problems for the indigenous people.”
Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, the erstwhile Maharaja of Tripura who led the organisations from his state, told The Sunday Express: “We have told the Home Minister that we welcome the NRC. However, we oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill in its present form, and if this Bill is passed, we will launch an andolan and take the matter to the Supreme Court. Of all the Northeast states, Tripura has suffered the most from the influx from Bangladesh…, which has reduced the majority tribals to a minority.”
Former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, Tripura CPM secretary Gautam Das, and former CPM MP and president of the Tripura Rajya Upajati Ganamukti Parishad Jitendra Chaudhary, have written to the Home Minister opposing the CAB.
Sarkar has said: “…The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has already expressed its opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Bill. I also feel very strongly that the amendments proposed by the Union Home Ministry to our Citizenship Act is fundamentally against the principles enshrined in our constitution… (and) virtually strike at the root of the concept of Citizenship in India. This may not only dilute the age-old cherished secular principles but also send a very negative, wrong and damaging message to our society… This may weaken our national integrity.”
Oddly, Manipur has been left out of Shah’s meetings.
“We have not been called for the consultative process by the Union Home Minister, and we don’t know why. Maybe it was deliberate. But this is strange since it is Manipur that has been spearheading the protests against the CAB. The Centre should know that if any such Bill is passed without consulting us, we will not accept this,” Th. Athouba, general secretary of the civil society group United Committee Manipur (UCM), said. The UCM is part of COCOMI, an umbrella body of civil society organisations, which had met Shah with its concerns over the Naga peace talks on November 25.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said: “Manipur students’ unions are a part of the Northeast Students’ Organisation, which is being consulted in the process. We are hopeful that we will also be called to meet the Home Minister… There is a lot of apprehension among the people of Manipur regarding the CAB.
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