EDITORIAL

Citizenship Mischief

The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) hearing held at Guwahati on Monday served to confirm the kind of mischief that is being played on the people through the Union government’s determination to enact a black law that goes against the wishes of the people of Assam. India is the largest democracy in the world. Therefore, it also has the responsibility to demonstrate to the world how a responsible democracy ought to function. The foremost concern of a democracy has to be its respect for the wishes, needs and aspirations of the people. It will simply not do for any country to pretend that it is a democracy merely because it holds periodic elections. How sincere it is about democratic traditions gets to be known along with how consistent it is about treating the will of the people with due respect at all times.
The people of Assam, with the sole exception of some of the BJP members, are convinced that the Citizenship (Amendment ) Bill, 2016 comes as a major threat to the State because it seeks to grant Indian citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to six communities—Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis—from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Bill was obviously conceived (with electoral gains in mind) without giving any thought to States like Assam already burdened with millions of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. In any case, the Bill raises legitimate questions about India’s claims of being a secular democratic republic since the amendment to our citizenship law is sought to be based on religion. But that is not the greatest harm that the Bill will do to a State like Assam. The greatest harm to Assam arises from the fact that the Bill threatens the very existence of Assam’s indigenous and Assamese-speaking communities as a whole. In a sense, the Bill is a way of indicating that the foreigners sought to be given Indian citizenship are more important in the eyes of our rulers than those who have been Indian citizens by birth and domicile for decades. We now have a situation where the Centre, having woken up very belatedly to the problem of having millions of illegal migrants from Bangladesh is planning to rectify the religious imbalance by granting Indian citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis who are already in India (particularly in Assam) and those who will arrive in millions, because life has already become impossible for them in Bangladesh. Those who are not already in Assam will make a beeline for this State largely because it is closest to Bangladesh and because it would be far more expensive and uncomfortable for them to move to more remote Indian States. In other words, New Delhi is unlikely to lose any sleep over what happens to the Assamese and the Assamese-speaking ethnic groups of Assam once it has succeeded in reducing them to a minority in their own State. This preference of the foreigner-turned-Indian to the existing Indian is something that is not only irrational but downright perverse.
For those who continue to pretend that that there is really no calculated bias in the Centre’s attitude to the indigenous inhabitants of Assam, we would like to draw their attention to the manner in which the JPC’s hearings in Assam were planned. The entire Brahmaputra Valley with 30 districts got just one day of public hearing, whereas the Barak Valley with its three districts got two days of hearings. How does one justify such grossly irrational conduct? Is it going to claim that in the Brahmaputra Valley there were only 130 organizations and individuals that had applied for making representations before the JPC on Monday, while over 300 organizations and individuals were expected to appear before the committee when it was to hold hearings for two days at Silchar? It is more than likely that the number of organizations in the Barak Valley that would support the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was neatly orchestrated by the Centre that was anxious to project the impression that the supporters of the Bill (even in Assam) were more than those who opposed the Bill. It is such attempts at hoodwinking the public in a democracy that eventually recoil on those in the corridors of power. There is no conceivable reason to imagine that things will be any different just because we choose to pretend that the Centre is not resorting to a shameless bias in conducting the JPC hearings in Assam.