Citizenship Amendment Act addresses minorities facing the brunt of repressive systems based on religion.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government at the Centre has once again proved its supremacy in strategising victory when faced with difficult arithmetic in the House. The Home Minister deserves all praise for successfully navigating the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in both Houses of Parliament, especially in Rajya Sabha where the BJP did not have sufficient numbers. After the President of India has given the assent, CAB has now become an Act. It went through a proper process in both Houses of Parliament.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will provide Indian nationality to six communities—Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists who had to take refuge in India (on or before 31 December 2014) fleeing from persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, three countries which have proclaimed themselves as Islamic.
Bangladesh was a secular state in 1971 when it was formed but adopted Islam as the state religion in 1980. In 2010, Bangladesh’s highest court ruled that the secular principles enshrined in the 1972 Constitution were valid and guiding. In 2011, the Vested Property Return Act provided for the return of seized properties of Hindus. The Hindu Marriage Registration Act of 2012 enabled Hindu marriages to be registered with the government instead of the Islamic clergy. Yet Hindus in general live under constant fear and intimidation of one or the other radical group. Even as recent as 2016, about 15 Hindu temples were destroyed and more than 100 Hindu homes burned. The total number of atrocities on the Hindu community in 2017 was 6,474 according to a report. Christians and Ahmadiya Muslims communities have also reported persecution.
But the worst are the woes of Chakma Buddhists of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) who face persecution at the hands of radical Islamic groups.
Considering the fact that the dispensation in Dhaka is favourably inclined towards maintaining good relationship with New Delhi, the government should explore diplomatic avenues to mitigate the woes of minority communities in Bangladesh. The Sheikh Hasina government is reportedly determined to rein in the extremist elements and uphold secular principles guaranteed by the Constitution within the confines of an Islamic state.
Afghanistan also has a very negligible number of minorities whose status is that of second class citizens who most of the times get caught in the crossfire during tribal war and a Taliban enforced radical Islamic regime.
In effect, the provisions of the CAA seem to be meant only for a highly hostile and unfriendly Islamabad, where the political establishment is fast losing its authority in the face of increasing Islamic radicalisation and pressure from the army. However, it will not be exactly so. The CAA has to mainly address those oppressed people who have been minorities and facing the brunt of the repressive systems based on religion. India has been attempting to leverage its soft power diplomacy by bringing these people under its ambit by giving them citizenship.
The domestic opposition to CAA has been effectively answered by the Home Minister in Parliament and by the BJP in public. But the real test for the government will be in the Northeast, especially in Assam. People here are apprehensive because of their experience in unabated infiltration for decades. Signs of discontent are already emerging in a number of states in the Northeast including Assam.
The provisions of CAA do not apply to tribal areas covered under ILP and not to the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland that come under the provisions of Inner Line Permit (ILP) as well as to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura (as specified in the 6th Schedule of the Constitution). The Union government announced introduction of ILP in Manipur too from 9 December thus insulating one more state of Northeast from the CAA.
The ILP restricts Indian citizens from settling down in the specified areas or buy land or property and/or take up jobs there.
Only three small areas, Bodo, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, in Assam come under 6th Schedule insulation. In the light of this it is clear that the provisions of CAA will apply to non-tribal areas of Assam, mainly the cities, suburbs, tea gardens and agricultural belt already inundated by “refugees” from Bangladesh.
Continued agitation in Assam will have disastrous consequences not only for the economy of the Northeast but also for the rest of India.
Assam is the third largest producer of petroleum and natural gas. It is the gateway to the Northeast. A peaceful Assam is important for the successful development of the rest of the region, which again is the stepping stone to the much touted Act East policy of the Modi government.
After the decision of the Modi government to say no to join RCEP, it becomes imperative to improve its outreach towards regional trade organisations such as BIMSTEC and ASEAN. Improving cultural links, connectivity and people to people contacts with South East Asia will give the much needed edge and strategic elbow space to New Delhi. But for all this to materialise, India’s Northeast needs to stabilise and improve economically.
The Modi government should strengthen its foreign policy mechanism further to derive maximum benefits from CAA. Improved trade with neighbouring countries will open up opportunities for greater mobility in the region and thus reduce the stress on local jobs and employment. Social tensions leading to intolerance towards and attacks on minorities can be tackled through improved economic engagement and improved connectivity. There is no denying the fact that the success of India’s CAA will very much depend on how it addresses the internal factor of resentment emerging among a select group of citizens who have little or no knowledge of the larger benefit India will have in protecting its regional interests as well as securing the rights of minorities in its neighbourhood.
Arvind Kumar teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal. Seshadri Chari is a well known strategic analyst and a political commentator.