The decision of the police to clamp Section 144 CrPC in the East police district of Guwahati (which includes Dispur and its adjoining areas) prohibiting the assembly of more than five persons, agitations, demonstrations, processions and slogan-shouting without permission from the competent authorities, is a clear message that the government is unwilling to tolerate any kind of dissent over the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and its possible clearing in the Rajya Sabha in due course. This is a sinister sign for the world’s largest democracy, signalling that the only indicators of democracy that the government is willing to countenance are an electoral roll and general elections held periodically according to the dictates of the government. What is even more disquieting for the people of Assam is the Centre’s familiar practice of foisting draconian laws totally regardless of the wishes of the people, that are followed by the clamping down of Section 144 CrPC so that there is no possibility of any protest or demonstrations against any draconian law imposed.
The normal expectation of democratic rule is that the people have to be consulted before any major decision affecting their lives is taken by the government. In the world’s largest democracy such obligations are thrown to the winds, with the government imposing its will on the people with any kind of law that makes control of the people by the rulers an easier task. After the widespread protests all over Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, the Union government should have refrained from pushing through the Bill in the Lok Sabha. It did nothing of the sort, but refrained from trying to get it passed in the Rajya Sabha also, obviously because it feared that the Bill would not get passed in the Upper House. Now all it has to do is to call a joint session of Parliament by invoking Article 108 of the Constitution so that the NDA has an edge over the Opposition in passing the Bill. The argument of the Union Home Minister that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 does not relate to Assam alone but is applicable to for the entire country is unlikely to cut any ice because the largest number of Hindus that are a minority in any of the three countries mentioned (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan) are in Bangladesh. As such, the provisions of the aforesaid Bill will affect Assam most adversely due to its proximity to Bangladesh. Assam, which has had to bear a huge burden of millions of illegal migrants from Bangladesh over the past four decades, will now be expected to bear the additional burden of three or four million Bangladeshis who migrated to Assam before December 31, 2014 and have been living here as illegal migrants. Were they to consider migrating to Karnataka, Maharashtra or Punjab or any other more distant State of India, they would have had to bear the cost of travelling by train. In deciding to migrate to Assam, they were able to just walk across an unprotected international border. And they had no problems of language, since their language is fairly well understood in Assam. This would not have been the case if they had migrated to the northern, western or southern States of India. Given these limiting conditions, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 is a piece of legislation that is bound to be particularly detrimental to Assam and the other States of the Northeast even if it is applicable to the entire country. Most of the other States of India are unlikely even to be aware that such a law has been enacted. The least that one can expect from our rulers is that they should be alive to the implications of any legislation that acquires selective application and impact by the very nature of the law and the ground realities that determine how the law can adversely affect just some sections of the population of our country and not others.