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NE and the CAB 2019

The controversial and contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha. Political and social groups in the North East called a Bandh in protest. It has triggered a process of social and political realignment in the region. What happens in the Rajya Sabha remains to be seen. Sub-national politics has resurfaced again which is a blow to the BJP which has swept over the North East since the 2014 General Election. It rules in Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. Allies are in office in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram. But the Citizenship Bill is alienating allies from the BJP. The Asom Gana Parishad has severed links with the BJP led Government in Assam and quit the NDA. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma whose party is aligned to the NDA is opposed to the Bill. The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), an ally of the BJP, supported the critics of the Act. The same line has been taken by Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga. Ethnic and linguistic identities have dominated politics in the North East for a long time. Religion has not played a decisive role. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s commitment to preserve North Eastern identity has now taken a back seat.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill backs the claims of non-Muslim migrants. BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma says it will fuel Muslim separatism in Assam. In that state the minority community accounts for 34% of the population and therefore it rings alarm signals. Many Muslim groups support secular opposition to illegal migration. The Bill advances the cut-off date for non-Muslims seeking Indian citizenship to 2014 from 1971. It undoubtedly complicates the National Registration of Citizens (NRC) process which has troubled Assam in recent months. It may mean that a sizable section of 40 lakh people may become stateless. That will ignite sub-nationalism which is for long a threat to the integration of the North East with mainland India. The BJP has aggravated the crisis by proposing religious identity as a marker of citizenship. The ruling party at the Centre appears to be overplaying its hand. The fate of the BJP hangs in the balance with the Parliamentary Elections round the corner. It has not done well in major states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The situation in Uttar Pradesh is also uncertain. The BJP may be doing harm to itself by pushing the Citizenship legislation.

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