The North-eastern part of India is now seized with one issue. It is seldom that the region rises together on a shared concern over an issue. One peculiarity of the present worry is that the source is not a homemade one but relates to interests exogenous to the region. Further, the problem does not relate to the existing people of the region but is consequent upon the potential change in the composition structure of the regional population due to factors of external origin. Still further, this potential change in composition structure does not even relate to the immigration or emigration of the existing population in the rest of India, but of plans to allow people from particularly identified countries and on the basis of identified religious bases. Yes, I am talking of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, popularly called CAB 2016.
Migration has all along been a phenomenon accompanying all living species with mobility capabilities. This being so it has been with human beings too all along. But the reasons for migration could be varied singularly or in combinations. Wars, conflicts and violent situations could force people to resort to migration as the ultimate response. Second, natural disasters would compel people to decide on migration. Third, pure economic reasons would force people to choose migration. Fourth, it could be that the other side looks greener.
However, the present fears being felt in the region relate to altogether a different kind. Before we come to these fears, let us first talk of societal character and related regional experience.
First, we must note that every society has a collective learning capability with long memories in so far as they relate to the collective survival and shared identity.
Second, despite the linkages to the Old Silk Route and other demographic linkages, the dominant demographic lesson of the region relates to the lessons of the indigenous population of Tripura in the main and Assam to some extent. These dreads have been aggravated by the not so encouraging demographic linked development dynamics in the post-1947 and post-1949 saga.
Third, the failure of Assam to reverse these collectively perceived fears and negative consequences of population inflows – despite widespread social movements since the mid-1970s – has been an underlying current in the socio-politico-economic fabric of the region.
Now what are the emerging migration scenarios consequent upon the adoption of the amendments to the Citizenship Act of India?
First, migration might have push or pull factors; the push factors relate to the source place and pull ones relate to the realities of the destination country or region. But the operation of these factors is usually spontaneous rather than policy-induced. Second, the destination countries/regions do hardly identify the acceptable immigrants by countries and religion.
The peculiarities of the proposed amendments to the Indian Citizenship Act are quite threatening. First, these identify three source countries which are predominantly Muslim countries. Second, these presume religious-based persecutions in the source countries. Third, the acceptable immigrants are identified on the basis of religion.
Above all, the biggest danger lies in the seemingly strong linkage of the amendments with the religious-based political agenda of the ruling political party in India. It goes without saying that the Hindutva agenda of the ruling party has been very salient from day one of coming to power. It is Hinduism as defined and practised by the agents of the political party, and never the generalised perception of the people following the faith.
Further, the agents pushing for this Hindutva agenda, whether in government or outside, are violent, impatient and have no qualms in resorting to anything to let the people feel that they mean power, state and law. It also looks like that they do not feel confident of staying in power after the forthcoming parliamentary elections. This being so, they are restless to push the divisive approaches to see to it that the Hindutva agents hold on to power by hook or crook.
It is these undemocratic intentions being conveyed by the bill which the people of the North-east have reservations about. Unfortunately, the responses of the powers-that-be in Delhi and their subordinate powersthat-be in the region have only added to the suspicions of the regional population. From Delhi, it is inter alia being promised that incentives are being thought of to dissuade immigrants from settling in the North-east. This is both absurd and amounts to assuming the North-east population as easy prey to political bluffs of the political party in power.
First, it is already proven that the North-east is a very attractive destination for at least a category of the potential immigrants; human psychology tells us that people do not move to potentially less-satisfying contexts.
Second, it looks like a ploy to first distract the attention of the regional population, and ultimately allow the immigrants to come to the region as inhabitants of one of the States in the Hindutva heartland.
These political bluffs being meted by the powers-that-be at the Centre are being coupled by equal doses of similar product from the regional powersthat-be. We have for instance the statement from the government in Imphal that requests are being made to exclude Manipur from the applicability of the amendments. This is ridiculous, to the highest order. First, these are nothing but unconstitutional statements being used by the Government to mislead her own population. Second, initial exclusion can never be permanent exclusion in such cases. This is because the moment citizenship is granted the applicability of the exclusion principle expires; the longevity of the exclusion norm is as short as possible in such cases of social phenomena.
In fine, what is needed by the land and people of North-eastern India is categorical response and not indulgence in political gimmickry by the central and regional governments. The issue is real in social, demographic, cultural and economic terms.
(The writer is the Head of the department of Economics, Manipur University. This article is reproduced with permission from Imphal Free Press.)