Exactly one month after Rajya Sabha had endorsed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill leading to its becoming an Act, Meghalaya Chief Minister and National People’s Party president Conrad Sangma has asked the BJP-led government of Narendra Modi to exempt the entire Northeastern region from the purview of this Act. Sangma, worthy son of a worthy father, has appreciated the Modi government for keeping Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and to a large extent Meghalaya out of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act’s purview. But then, he has asked the Centre for full exemption of Meghalaya and Assam too. Right now only seven districts of Assam – the four BTAD districts (Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri), Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong – are exempted from this Act.
Meghalaya too is right now only partially exempted from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and so are parts of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura. Section 3(4) of the Act says – “Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under The Inner Line notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.” As far as Assam is concerned, the exemption does not carry any serious meaning because while a large number of illegal migrants have already settled in the exempted areas by various fraudulent means courtesy various political parties which were earlier in power in the state, those who have not obtained documents through such fraudulent means will now shift to the non-exempted districts. The same is the case with Meghalaya too, where the illegal migrants – irrespective of whether they are Hindus or Muslims – have already made strong foothold in those areas. About Tripura, less said the better because the present Chief Minister himself was born in a relief camp after his parents had fled then East Pakistan during the Bangladesh liberation movement and put up in a refugee camp. The Centre appears to have played a trick with Meghalaya by not extending the Inner Line Permit provisions for the state.
While the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly had recently passed a resolution for implementation of the Inner Line Permit provisions in the entire state, Conrad Sangma has told the Centre in unequivocal terms that his party and government were very firm in their demand for ILP and would continue to engage with New Delhi till the state was fully exempted from the purview of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the indigenous people were fully protected from the onslaught of the migrants of East Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is very important to note that while the young and energetic Meghalaya Chief Minister has made such a strong appeal to the Centre on behalf of all the indigenous communities and people of the whole Northeastern Region, his Assam counterpart has failed to speak up for the indigenous people of his state with conviction and courage. The people of the region can recall with pride that Conrad Sangma had played a very crucial role when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was sought to be passed in January-February 2019.
In fact, his strong stand was one of the prime reasons while the previous BJP-led government of Narendra Modi had refrained from taking the Bill to Rajya Sabha in February 2019 despite the Lok Sabha passing it. It is a matter of disappointment and regret for the people of Assam that their Chief Minister, on whom they had reposed such unflinching faith, has failed to stand up to the occasion. The Northeastern region today requires more leaders having the kind of positive traits that the Meghalaya Chief Minister possesses. The present set of leaders of various organizations in Assam – irrespective of whether they belong to political parties, student bodies, civil society organizations or NGOs – should also learn from Conrad Sangma on how to take strong stands on vital issues. Those who are currently involved in the anti-CAA agitation in Assam should also think twice and try to study the traits of the Meghalaya Chief Minister before they talk about forming a new political party.