The Northeast has become restive ever since the Centre decided to amend the Citizenship Act. The BJP, which has piloted the amendment in Parliament, has disregarded the objections to the amendment in the Northeast, especially in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam. It ignored the criticism of Opposition parties and got the Bill passed in the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session.
The Bill is now pending in the Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority. The BJP has countered the protests against the Bill by claiming that “lies were being told and misinformation spread”. Senior leader and the party’s point person for the Northeast, Ram Madhav, has sought to justify the amendment, which seeks to privilege the claims of non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Indian citizenship, in the context of the Subcontinent’s Partition — as its unfinished agenda, as it were. This, clearly, is a misreading of history, especially of its several and complex trajectories in the Northeast which will not be subsumed by an imposed Hindu-Muslim binary.
The signs have been ominous from the beginning. Protests were held in the Brahmaputra Valley when the Joint Parliamentary Committee visited Assam against the Bill and mobilisations in the Barak Valley supported it. An old linguistic faultline in Assam had been reopened. When the BJP refused to back down despite the protests and shutdowns in Assam, the Asom Gana Parishad walked out of the NDA and the BJP-led government in Guwahati.
After the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, almost the entire political spectrum in the Northeast spoke out against the legislation. The BJP’s own chief minister in Manipur, N Biren Singh, has said that the state is opposed to the Bill in the present form. Now, at least five MLAs of the Assam BJP have said that they are opposed to the Bill. The BJP should, at the very least, listen to the dissenting voices within its own ranks since it has chosen to shut out the criticism from civil society, Opposition parties and even allies.
Ram Madhav and other BJP leaders seem confident that their (mis)reading of history and historical processes can prevail in the Northeast. In fact, a similar indifference to local sensitivities has already cost the BJP its alliance and government in J&K. The party appears to have embarked on the same journey in the Northeast. However, the BJP’s pursuing of its ideological agendas in these states has troubling implications beyond the party’s own electoral destiny — it could stoke disquiet on India’s frontiers.