Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and his Meghalaya and Mizoram counterparts Conrad Sangma and Zoramthanga respectively must be congratulated for having made a very important point in the presence of none other than Amit Shah, the Home Minister of India. Both were reacting to a statement made by Shah in the day-long crucial fourth meeting of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) in Guwahati on Monday, in which the Union Home Minister had earlier asserted that the BJP-led government at the Centre would pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to provide Indian citizenship to lakhs of non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. Though Shah said that the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would not hurt the existing laws to safeguard the cultural and ethnic identities of the indigenous communities of the north-eastern region as well as Article 371, at least three of the eight Chief Ministers of the region were clearly not convinced. Shah tried to assert that Article 371 would continue and that it grants special provisions to the region and also that it was the right of the people of the region. The CAB would not hurt the Northeast people, he said repeatedly. However, Rio, Zoramthanga and Sangma were just not convinced. Shah also said that the CAB would set December 31, 2014 as the cut-off date, which means that all those non-Muslim migrants who came to India from Bangladesh till or before that date would be granted Indian citizenship. Shah pointed at safeguarding cultural and ethnic identities, but could not convincingly say anything about the linguistic identity of the communities of the region.
That exactly was why Rio, Zoramthanga and Sangma stood up to express their reservations. Sangma very rightly pointed out, that the people of the Northeast have genuine fears over Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. He also questioned whether the Centre would bypass discussions with the States – the Northeast States – before introducing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. “What will happen after the CAB is passed? Will people continue to come from Bangladesh? Will there be a deadline somewhere? We, in the Northeast, have fears,” Conrad Sangma asked. Rio, on the other hand, had no hesitation in telling Shah that the people of the Northeast have genuine fears that the CAB would change the demography of the region. “We believe it will change the demography of the region. We need to understand the ground situation,” Neiphiu Rio said. Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has very rightfully demanded exclusion of the Northeast from the purview of the CAB. He even made a very curt observation – which Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, other Chief Ministers of the region and Asom Gana Parishad president Atul Bora should note – that all those political parties which have supported the CAB were on the verge of committing suicide. Will the Union Home Minister listen to the strong voices of Neiphiu Rio, Zoramthanga and Conrad Sangma?