GUWAHATI, India, 20 June 2018
The debate relating to Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 guides us to a pertinent question: Whether it is only a ploy to safeguard Hindu refugees from neighbouring countries, or a well-planned design by Hindu-centric forces inspiring the present Union government in New Delhi to initiate for making India a Hindu Nation (Rastra).
There may be logic in favour of or opposition to the idea, but slow responses to New Delhi’s citizenship amendment initiative, except in Assam along with a few eastern States, propagate a picture in favour of nationalist forces.
While India (domestic name Bharat) was divided in 1947 and a new Islamic nation called Pakistan was born, nobody perhaps thought that its implications would linger for decades to come. Even though Pakistan declared itself an Islamic republic, India maintained to be secular in practice. Now an inherent urge to make the country a Hindu nation is seemingly emerging.
There could not be any denial of the fact that India has a legacy of Hinduism for a few thousand years. Barring China, no country on the planet can claim a legacy of a thousand years. India’s Hinduism developed before Christianity and Islam were born in the Western world. After decades of secularism, the question that arises, if the one billion-plus nation poses for redefining its identity.
Political pundits believe that the Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi has slowly cultured the particular interest and successfully expanded the ideology of Hindutwa to almost every locality of the vast country. Today, hardliner politician Modi has not only empowered his second mother — the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) — to command over the Centre, but also expands its rule over 20 States directly or allied to various regional political parties.
As a registered political party, BJP may not subscribe to the theory of a Hindu nation in public, but its ideologue Rashtriya Swayang Sewak (RSS) has made it clear in many occasions that it remains concerned about Hinduism and the safeguard of those who practice the Sanatan religion, even if they are not residents of India. Many RSS leaders continue making public statements that Bharat is a natural home for Hindu people.
The latest initiative of the Modi government is to pass the amendment bill in the Parliament paving ways for granting citizenship to religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (which had entered India before 31 December 2014 because of religious persecutions in their countries of origin) is also seen as an inherent agenda to pursue the dream of a Hindu Rastra.
The concerned bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Indian Parliament) by the ruling BJP with an aim to amend the current Citizenship Act 1955 so that asylum seekers from the said three neighbouring countries could get Indian citizenship after due procedures.
Unlike the Lok Sabha, the ruling BJP and its allies do not enjoy a majority in the upper house of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and hence a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the amendment was formed and asked to take views from the people in affected States.
Accordingly the Parliamentarian Rajendra Agrawal-led JPC organised hearings in New Delhi, Guwahati, Silchar, and Shillong, where civil society representatives and individuals put forward their views about the government initiative. Barring the Barak valley of Assam, most of the civil society groups of northeast India opposed the bill. The Meghalaya and Nagaland governments have taken official positions opposing the initiative, and amazingly the Brahmaputra valley slowly emerges as a hotbed of protest-demonstrations against the amendment.
Their logic against the bill include that religion-specific provisions for Indian citizenship go against the spirit of the constitution of a secular nation. Moreover, the world’s largest democracy should support people with different beliefs (not only Hindus). Moreover the proposed amendment must not impose an extra load of refugees in Assam. The State has already taken extra migrants from Bangladesh prior to 1971 and its continuation would only destroy Assam’s demography.
All major organizations in the Brahmaputra valley, along with the Guwahati-based editors of prominent newspapers and television news channels, came out with resentment against the Centre’s move. They not only issued strong media statements elaborating their points of view, but also met the State chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, responding whom the BJP leader only assured that he would not do anything wrong to the people of Assam. Sonowal also declared that the people would be taken into confidence as and when the State government takes a position over the amendment.
The influential minister in Sonowal’s cabinet, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, declared that the State government would take a position over the matter only after the publication of the second (and final) draft by the National Register of Citizens (NRC), by 30 June next. The updating of the NRC, presently going on in Assam with the direction and monitoring of the Supreme Court of India, would provide a clear picture of the volume of people taking shelter in the State without valid documents, the minister asserted.
Meanwhile, many political observers started comparing the present situation with the days of historic Assam agitation, which culminated in 1985 with an accord signed by the agitators and the Union government led by Rajiv Gandhi. Millions of participants in the six-year-long agitation wanted to deport all illegal migrants (read Bangladeshi nationals) from the State, but the leaders agreed in the accord to accept all the migrants till 25 March 1971 in Assam.
The agitation led by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), witnessed the sacrifices of over 850 martyrs and thousands of others in different shapes and sizes, who all wanted to deport the illegal migrants with the national cutoff year (1951). But the accord agreed to identify only those people, who entered Assam after 25 March 1971, as illegal foreigners.
It needs to be mentioned that the Assam accord was never endorsed by the Parliament (for constitutional validity). More than three decades after the signing of the accord, the people of Assam (more precisely the civil society group representatives and media stalwarts in Brahmaputra valley) are fantasizing another uprising. But contrary to all hue and cry, a forum of nationalists emphasized logical debate over the pertinent issue rather than creating sentiments with manipulated facts among the common people.
In a media statement, the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) claimed that a section of Assamese intellectuals, editor-journalists, and civil society groups had tried their best to project the citizenship amendment bill in a biased perception, as if the whole initiative was Assam-centric. Those biased individuals also claimed that once it turns into a law, millions of Bengali Hindu people from Bangladesh would enter Assam and the practice would continue for decades to come, it added.
The PPFA also claimed that those cunning intellectuals intentionally avoided the fact that those asylum seekers are not merely Bengali Hindus, but also a mix of Rajbongsi, Hajong, Jayantiya, Bishnupriya, Chakma, Garo, Khasi, Boro, Adivasi, etc., people. Moreover, all these people became the victims of Pakistan’s partition game plan and had to live in a foreign land, for the creation of which they were not at all responsible, asserted the statement.
The forum also reiterated its old stand to detect all illegal immigrants from the then East Pakistan (and later Bangladesh) with the cut-off year of 1951 as it is applicable to the entire nation. It argued that the spirit of the Assam movement (1979 to 1985) was to deport all foreigners since 1951, for which the martyrs — Khargeswar Talukder being the first — sacrificed their lives.
Finally, the PPFA statement argued that if the deportation of illegitimate immigrants (mostly Muslims) becomes impossible or too difficult to deal with, because of serious humanitarian and international crisis, the federal government should think of offering work permits (without voting rights) to them with an aim to resolve the issue amicably. The initiative is expected to negate the religious vote-bank politics in the country.
Political pundits apprehend that if the Centre succeeds in amending the citizenship act with no or little trouble, the BJP might bring another bill in future welcoming every Hindu (along with Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist) individual from around the world as and when they feel a necessity to enter India. Following the theory of Israel, the BJP-RSS would try to concentrate a predominantly Hindu population in India (which is around 60%), argued the experts, apprehending that in the backdrop of Islamist terrorism across the globe, most non-Muslim Indians might even support the concept.
About the author
Nava Thakuria is a journalist based in Guwahati, India. He has been covering socio-political developments of northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.
More articles by Nava Thakuria on Tibet Sun.