The third conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) which was held in Guwahati last Sunday, naturally raises a question or two about the Centre’s genuine concern for the development of the Northeast. It is significant that the key figure attending the third NADA conclave was BJP national president Amit Shah who rightly underscored the importance of making the Northeast corruption-free and an active participant in the country’s development in the days to come. Amit Shah accused the erstwhile Congress chief ministers of the north-eastern States for making the region notorious for corruption. He asserted that the people of the region would get a “Congress-free” Northeast after Mizoram’s general election by the end of this year. While talking about corruption and a change in India’ outlook towards the region, he said, “Earlier, during the Congress regime, there was briefcase politics (meaning money in briefcases) in the Northeast. But the present BJP regime has converted briefcase politics into development politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been successful in changing the country’s outlook towards the region, and the Northeast will play a big role in the country’s development in the days to come.” Unfortunately, there are not many people in the region who will accept the words of Amit Shah at face value. This is partly because there has not been any significant change in the Centre’s attitude to the Northeast since the BJP came to power both at the Centre and in Assam. People are, therefore, more likely to accept the words of Amit Shah as the kind of familiar ritual that has been resorted to by everyone who visits the Northeast. Had there been any genuine concern about the lack of development in the Northeast over the decades, the region would not have remained as backwards as it is even today. It is all very well to talk about the Northeast being the gateway to south-east Asia and so on, but the continued neglect of the region by the Centre is there for all to see.
However, the malaise does not end there. Of late, there have been concerted efforts to seriously jeopardize the identity and the future of the Assamese people by literally forcing the people of Assam to accept a piece of black legislation that goes by the name of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. This should be only too evident from the fact that during Amit Shah’s speech at the third conclave of NEDA, there was not a single word about the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, even though it is an issue that is uppermost in the minds of the people of Assam, since it is a law that will further overload Assam with foreign nationals despite the State having to bear the burden of about six million Bangladeshi migrants who are illegally in the State. The determination of the Centre to grant Indian citizenship to all Bangladeshi Hindus is no less than a decision to make the Assamese people a minority in their own State. No one is prepared to believe that the Centre is unaware of the problems and equations involved. As such, the determination of the Centre to force a black legislation on the people of Assam naturally appears to be a calculated and well-planned move to do the worst possible harm to the State.
The undue concern of the government of India for the safety and welfare of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and Christians of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh—a concern based on religion (despite our secular credentials)—does not do any credit to India’s claims of being a secular democratic republic. But that apart, any legislation like the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 does grave injustice to the people of the State. If the Union government had been so seriously concerned about the well-being of the six above-mentioned communities of these three countries, it could have enacted the Bill by inserting a clear proviso that the Bill excludes Assam and the remaining States of the Northeast from its purview and that the law would be enforceable only in the other States of the Indian union not already overburdened with illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The Centre cannot afford to overlook the fact that the indigenous population of Assam (excluding the Bengali-speaking citizens) comprises about 1.40 crore and the number of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh alone would be anything between 1.5 and 1.7 crore. The Bengali-speaking population of Assam, which is now about 1.4 crore, would then almost exceed about three crore. Is this dumping of foreigners on Assam fair to the Indians of the State? How can the Centre choose to inflict such injustice on a single State of India without any prior reference to the people of the State? We live in a democratic State. Has the Centre completely forgotten what the responsibilities of a democratic dispensation are as far as the people are concerned? Is the present style of functioning, by totally ignoring the will of the people who are about to be affected by the black legislation, in any way consistent with known democratic principles? The Centre knows the answers and must stop pretending that it does not. It is not democratic for the leaders in New Delhi to refuse to see what the Centre has succeeded in doing by unilaterally forcing a bad piece of legislation on one of the peripheral States of the country. The Centre must also stop to think of what could have happened if such an unfair law were to have been rammed down the throats of the people in one of the mainland States of the country. Our leaders in New Delhi must learn not just to see what they have achieved with an unfair law thrust on just one region, but also to look at the disservice that they do to the country by whimsically alienating a part of the country through its insistence on forcing a black law on just one region.