"We are in dangerous territory. Those who rule this country must have both foresight and large-heartedness to accommodate differences—and care about the sentiments of the people of the North-East." These words from Meghalaya of Patricia Mukhim, the editor of 'Shilliong Times' convey the explosive situation in the north-eastern states that have been ablaze over the last week. The fire that started in those states, soon after the passage of Citizenship Amendment Bill on 9 November, is yet to be doused. When on the one hand there are countrywide protests raging against the unconstitutional move of patently excluding Muslims, on the other hand states including Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Manippur are up in agitation demanding the repeal of the sangh-parivar sponsored legislation in the Centre against granting of citizenship to migrants.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was introduced as part of the sangh parivar agenda to bolster its Hindutva vote bank and to stabilise its position through polarisation in Assam and West Bengal, states which are going to have elections soon. But ever since its beginning, the bill has been facing unexpected and formidable setbacks. In Assam, the party entreated votes in 2019 general election with the plea that the bill which was passed by Lok Sabha, could not sail through Rajya Sabha for want of sufficient majority. And in Assam, the BJP won 9 out of the total 14 seats with a strong margin. The party move to hold up the bill as a means of expelling the Bangladeshi Muslims from the state, and thus to make inroads in West Bengal, also met with success. It is on the back of this confidence that the BJP started its attempt to capture the fully-fledged states of West Bengal and Assam in the next assembly election and thus to bring the entire north-eastern region under its supremacy and alienate Muslim community across the country. And for that the BJP dug out the citizenship bill and National Register of Citizens (NRC) as its trump card in its path towards establishing a Hindu(tva) nation. But things are not as simple as the sangh parivar imagined; matters have come to a pass that the haste in its chariot race to Hindutva will slip to a tragedy that will shatter the very country of India.
The northeastern region, where 238 tribal communities live as per official figures, is one where the distinct feature of India, i.e. its diversity, is most visible. The people of Tibeto-Burman, Astro-Asiatic, and Cambodian descent are traditionally not followers of Hindu faith. Although mutual co-existence grew among these sections through centuries of inter-mingling, they treated any one coming from outside as an outcaste; and that regardless of religion. This extra-ordinary diversity was accommodated by the architects of the constitution via allowing identity. And that is why the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system made by the British to protect the region's commercial interests, was made into law in independence India also, which mandated that special permission was required for entry and residence of outsiders within the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. In addition to this, three each of tribal-dominated areas in states of Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and one of Tripura, were included in the 6th Schedule of the constitution so as to allow them limited autonomy.
The exercise of the builders of the nation was to hold close those sub-nationalities, who were not absorbed into the mainstream of the country. It was in the realization of this that all governments in the past, including the BJP's, exercised the same caution in the matter of the north-east, as done in the case of Jammu-Kashmir. But now, upsetting that apple cart of this cautionary approach, the Modi-Amit Shah duo have now set out with the new legislation on behalf of the RSS. And that plan consists in expelling the Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, giving citizenship to the others and making them part of the future Hindu vote bank. In the zeal about this plan, in Assam and West Bengal, where majority of the migrants live, the deadline for granting citizenship was extended from 1971 - provided for in the Assam Accord - to 31 December 2014. With the BJP thus adding 43 years to the settlement period, and the people of Assam realising that the number of immigrants would thus be higher by millions, Assam has risen in revolt now. The states where the ILP system is in place, have now been exempted from the CAA, and Manipur – which has also protested – was included in the ILP exemption in a hurry. But this move to spliner the protest that is likely to spread all over the region, is viewed by even those who had supported the BJP, as a plot to cause division in the NE region. With this, a situation has arisen in which all the burden will fall on Assam and West Bengal. Hence the protests are blazing in these two states. On the streets now in agitation and with allegation of disintegration are those for whom the Centre had tried to strengthen the Hindu vote bank. In summary, the Centre has triggered a revolt that will alter the very complexion of NE region, which has been maintaining overall peace for the last two decades. And only the Centre can end it.