As the Union Cabinet gave nod to a redrafted Citizenship Amendment Bill on Wednesday morning, Tripuras’s tribal political parties said the changes were merely ‘cosmetic’ and ‘eyewash’ meant to fool people, and they will continue to protest the Bill.
Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, floated in 2016, seeks to legalise permanent stay in India for migrants of six minority groups from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians.
The central government had moved the Bill in the Parliament in 2016 and it was passed in the Lok Sabha in February 2019. However, the legislation lapsed after it failed to get the nod from the Rajya Sabha due to massive protest by various groups and political parties in the northeastern states.
BJP ally AGP in Assam also withdrew support from the state government over the legislation. Twelve non-BJP MPs wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the past few months, requesting him to exclude NE states from the ambit of this bill.
As per the new provisions in CAB approved by the Union Cabinet today, states where Inner Line Permit (ILP) is applicable and areas under autonomous administration as per Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would be exempted. Cut-off date for implementing Bill is being retained on December 31, 2014. The rules also say no overseas citizen of India’s cards would be cancelled for any reason without giving them a proper hearing.
As per the revised guidelines, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram would be completely out of the purview of CAB, since these three states are completely covered by ILP provisions.
However, five other states of the region like Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura would only have partial exemption since only parts of these states are under the Sixth Schedule areas. Among the northeastern states, Assam and Tripura have had the highest reports of illegal immigration over the years, especially from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Tripura’s ruling ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT) and other tribal parties like Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT), along with several social organisations and royal scion Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah at Delhi on November 29 to discuss the issue. IPFT even held protest two days back at Jantar Mantar in the national capital against CAB.
At this juncture, the Cabinet’s nod to CAB, albeit with exceptions, was received with distrust and scepticism in Tripura.
“We are against Citizenship Amendment Bill. We are completely against it. If CAB is implemented in general area of Tripura and areas reserved for tribals are exempted, who is going to guarantee that these newcomers will not encroach the Sixth Schedule areas tomorrow? We already have nearly 2.5 lakh illegal non-tribals in Tripura ADC,” IPFT spokesperson Mangal Debbarma told indianexpress.com. He said his party would continue to protest the legislation.
INPT supremo and ex-MLA Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl protested the idea of a revised CAB as well and said his party would continue protesting the Bill since it posed a threat to tribals living outside the ADC areas. Tribals in Tripura are marginalised due to illegal immigration already and any further influx will threaten their identity, he reasoned.
Hrangkhawl is a former rebel who headed the dreaded Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) till 1988 when the insurgent outfit laid down arms after signing an agreement with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Parts of the agreement demanded that illegal immigrants be identified and deported from Tripura.
Tipraland State Party (TSP), which held a strike in ADC areas two days back against Citizenship Amendment Bill, said the revision in Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would not suffice to allay fears of tribals in northeast India. “We want the CAB to go, completely. Not in parts, not in areas, but completely. We shall continue agitating against the Bill,” he said.
Former Tripura Congress president and royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, who is rumoured to be floating a political party soon, said, “I am still unhappy about this Bill. Its premises keep a certain community out. Besides, there are indigenous people living outside the 6th Schedule areas. You can’t turn the entire state into 6th Schedule areas. So, where is their protection?”
Pradyot also reasoned that Tripura has taken enough load of non-tribals, including Partition refugees and East Pakistani refugees, in the past and demanded that if anyone is accepted as a citizen from other countries, they should be distributed across India and not just in Tripura or northeast India.
Former CPI (M) MP and senior tribal leader Jitendra Chaudhury said changes incorporated in the CAB are merely ‘cosmetic’ and ‘eyewash’. “These changes are meant to befool the people. These are cosmetic changes and eyewash. We will continue to oppose CAB,” Chaudhury said.
BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharya welcomed the change in CAB and said it would benefit India and its citizens.