The disquiet over CAA, NRC will spill into the new year
In all probability, 2020 will tax both sense and sensibility. Tinder, when lit, has that effect. That public discourse considers the imposition of a second Emergency to quell nationwide protests over a wide range of issues of security and insecurity, is indication as to just how far such matters have come. These issues will overshadow, by default or design, the slackening of the economy and knee-jerk policy initiatives. This week’s column offers the first of a series of security-related heads-ups for the coming year.
The disquiet and fracas over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, or CAA, made into law in mid-December, will continue. The cabinet decision earlier this week to allocate ₹85 billion to carry out a census, the National Population Register, which a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government in 2015 termed a necessary step to NRC, will add to that disquiet. Statements by government leadership this past week, in the wake of ongoing nationwide protests, that NRC is not related to CAA, or that the population register has nothing to do with NRC, won’t cut ice. Neither will knee-jerk statements by central cabinet ministers that the government has never discussed nationwide implementation of NRC.
There’s good reason. Various members of government have repeatedly discussed such matters in various fora. Indeed, the BJP’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections specifically mentions NRC. In the segment on security titled ‘Nation First’, the sub-head ‘Combating Infiltration’ makes the following claim: “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.”
It strains credulity that a BJP-led government hasn’t discussed NRC. Especially as another item in the same manifesto, for amending citizenship requirements for a select group of people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh—“Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries will be given citizenship in India”—found expression in triumphant follow through as CAA.
The document added: “We will make all efforts to clarify the issues to the sections of population from the northeastern states who have expressed apprehensions regarding the legislation. We reiterate our commitment to protect the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of northeast.”
That’s where it went horribly wrong and will continue to go wrong, despite a slew of announcements and initiatives rolled out over the past two weeks to stall protests—at least in North-East India. In BJP-ruled Assam, where protests have been the strongest, NRC and CAA’s face, Himanta Biswa Sarma, announced the formation of new tribal autonomous councils and development funds for niche communities. In BJP-ruled Manipur, chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh leveraged the Inner Line Permit (ILP) for that state, which seeks to screen entry of visitors, often derided as “foreigners”—“mayang”— from 1 January. In Meghalaya, where the government is in alliance with BJP, chief minister Conrad Sangma also leveraged ILP, currently applicable to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.
These are salves, not solutions.
Assam remains livid over public perception that CAA nullifies aspects of the Assam Accord of 1985 that marked 1971 as the cut-off date for determining a “foreigner”. CAA provides a cut-off date of five years. Policy palliatives do nothing to calm concerns among the Assamese, Hindu, Muslim, and those of other persuasions, that CAA provides backdoor entry to a million or more Hindu immigrants, primarily from Bangladesh, that NRC, currently applied only to Assam, has netted. Similarly, ILP won’t really calm nerves in other North-eastern states, nearly all with a bloody history of reaction to political ingress and immigration, illegal or legal, from Bangladesh or ‘Mainland’ India.
Nationwide protests and suspicion even among several of the more than one-third of voters who brought in BJP to again run India, voters in the crucible of Assam for example, have amply demonstrated that a bludgeoning one-policy-fits-all approach is at best a recipe for blowback and loss of credibility. There is little official indication yet that lessons are being learnt, or acknowledgement that the alternative to inclusive, stable India is an inconclusive, unstable India.
This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights.