Representative image

Much have been spoken and written about the CAB, now CAA that commenting anything on this controversial legislation may sometimes appear stale and repetitive.

Representational image

However, since the issue is closely followed by the common public particularly in the north-eastern region, it is imperative to try and look back how Assam and the rest of the Northeast followed the CAB journey since its first introduction in the Parliament.

In January 2019, when the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the entire Northeast, in a rare show of unity protested, with politicians, civil society organizations and students speaking out in one voice.

This did send a strong message and the Bill was not introduced in the Upper House of the Parliament.

The region welcomed this decision as a victory and there were celebrations and chest thumping in most states.

Himanta Biswa Sarma

In the midst of these celebrations, there was one person who sulked, and he was none other than Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP’s master strategist in Assam.

With tinge of disappointment, Sarma said his party was not conceding defeat so easily and that his party shall ensure that the Bill re-enters the Parliament and exit as an Act.

These strong words from one of the key functionaries of the state BJP was mistaken to be one spoken out of frustration.

But when the Sankalp Patra (Manifesto for Lok Sabha elections 2019) of the BJP was released, it became clear that the Assam strongman after all was not indulging in loose talks since the desire to amend the Citizenship Act figured as one of the key objectives in the party manifesto.

Nevertheless, it did not raise enough alarm within the political circles.

So much so that neither the Indian National Congress nor the regional parties took it as major issue to corner the BJP on the communal intent of the Bill as they alleged now.

It must, however, be said that prior to the announcement of the Parliamentary elections, political parties in the region did their bit by speaking in one voice and raising common concerns.

Besides pulling out three of their ministers from Sonowal-led government, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) played a lead role in protesting against the CAB.

Its leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, not only led an all-party delegation to Delhi to convey the collective sentiments of region, but also went all guns blazing, accusing the BJP of ditching the people of the Northeast through introduction of a controversial Bill.

He even went on record on different television channels stating that his party would never collaborate with a party that aims to destabilize the region.

But once the election dates were announced by the Election Commission, CAB ceased to be a hot topic.

Political parties, including the AGP, went scampering working out ways and means of forging pre-poll alliances in order to remain close to the party that was expected to rule the country.

In the process, the AGP suddenly found virtue in its former ally and succumbed to the proverbial ‘there are no permanent friends or foes in Indian politics’ and solemnly shook hand again with a partner it deserted not too long ago.

In other states of the region too, the willingness to pile on to the BJP was very much evident.

Therefore, from the time the election results were declared, the writings on the walls were very much clear.

Black flag

Within weeks of Modi’s second inning, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 suddenly assumed a priority ranking in the list of BJP, next only to the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir.

Regardless of how loud the protests resonated from the hills and valleys of the Northeast, the party was bent upon and determined to push the Bill.

And so it did, and successfully even as the entire Northeast was burning with protests where members of Parliament from the region too conveniently remained blinded to the shouts and screams in their respective constituencies.

Most significantly, majority of them announced, “I support the Bill” when it was discussed in the Parliament.

Therefore, it is not without the contributions of people from the Northeast that CAB became CAA.

In April 2019, this author had predicted about what is happening today in the Northeast while writing for another newspaper in the region, the archaic of which is now unfortunately inaccessible due to the paper upgrading their website.

In that article I also predicted that when the Bill would be re-introduced in the Parliament, representative from the north-eastern states were likely to speak politically correct languages and insidiously facilitate quite passage in both Houses of the Parliament.

This precisely was what we saw when the Bill was deliberated in the Parliament.

Therefore, despite the sympathies to all those who genuinely felt concerned about the long term implications of CAA, it would be incorrect to blame the Centre alone for today’s state of affairs because the Northeast too, after all had hands in ensuring that the Bill becomes a law.

Recently as agitations against the Act spiraled, a popular news portal in India had quoted a youth from Assam as saying, “People are angry because they fear that they will have to share their land, jobs and resources with foreigners. It is not about Hindus or Muslims. We don’t want any more outsiders in Assam. The decision of the government will ruin our culture and language”.

This remarks pretty much sums up the sentiments of people in the region, particularly Assam, a state and people that have borne much of the brunt of migration from neighbouring country.

We therefore see that unlike in mainland India, the concern is not so much about how CAA would dilute or impact on the secular character of the Indian Constitution.

Here, it is about survival and fear of being possibly swamped and swallowed by people the Act aims to rehabilitate.

Whether this sentiment would be assuaged politically through some course correction, or ignored and bulldozed, shallonly be known in due course of time.

But for the present, it appears that all roads to discussions and accommodations have hit a dead end.

The writer is a retired IPS officer and he can be reached at johnshilshi@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal

John S Shilshi

The Author is a retried IPS officer. He can be reached at johnshilshi@gmail.com