A European think tank has warned India against the reignition of insurgencies in the North-East over the recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which provides Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014.
The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) in a detailed report, dated December 12, has asserted that the “polarisation in India over the CAA has posed serious constitutional, political, and ethical questions” to the people of the country as well as its institutions. “Astute handling of the situation within India’s democratic framework, while at all times keeping the larger national interest in focus, appears to be the way out,” says the report.
The contentious legislation, which promises not to deprive any Indian citizen of his status, has triggered country-wide protest since it was passed and enacted by Parliament last week.
The legislation has become the centre of heated debate in northeast India because places including Assam and Meghalaya have been swamped by refugees, both Hindus and Muslims, from neighbouring Bangladesh, who over the decades have entered the region illegally and altered its demographic profile.
According to the report, the genesis of the militant United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which has plagued the state for over 30 years, lay in the struggles of the “anti-foreigner movement” that was launched in 1979 by the All Assam Student’s Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) for the detection of illegal immigrants, their deletion from the voters’ list, and their deportation to Bangladesh.
“The AASU is again at the forefront of the ongoing anti-CAA protests in Assam. The ULFA (Independent) is, meanwhile, watching keenly from its bases in Myanmar and China, desperate to resurrect itself by capitalizing on any instability and signs of disaffection in Assam,” the EFSAS report says.
ULFA has already begun reaching out to the protestors. Its chief, Paresh Baruah, in a message on December 11, sought to win sympathy and support by saying that “The ULFA-I will not sit idle if a protesting student or any Assamese for that matter is assaulted. We appeal to Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta, Director General of Police (DGP) of Assam Police, not to lathi charge (baton charge) people taking to the streets and vehemently opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The DGP should control his police force and not harass innocent protesters,” the report mentions.
“While the political solutions are being arrived at, India must not lose sight of the imperative to preserve the hard-earned peace that has been ushered into Assam and the other six volatile states of the northeast after decades of violent insurgencies,” the report stresses.
The North East, which is “critical for the Modi government’s Act East policy”, is connected to India through a thin sliver of land that constitutes less than 2 per cent of its territory. “Integration of the region into the Indian mainstream has been a laboured process, which of late had been showing signs of speeding up. The reasons to ensure stability in the region are, therefore, many,” it says.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly assured that the BJP-led government believes in the freedom of religion as enshrined in the Constitution and “we do not see India as a Hindu Rashtra,” an accusation that has been levelled by parties against the Citizenship Act.
He said special provisions will be made for minorities but “illegal immigrants” will not be allowed to stay in the country, adding that the BJP-led government believes in the freedom of religion as enshrined in the Constitution.
“We do not see India as a Hindu Rashtra. We believe in the freedom of religion as enshrined in the Constitution. Any Government of the country can have only one religion: India’s Constitution,” the minister added.
Shah has also appealed to the students protesting against the legislation and said that they can definitely bring forth their issues to the government.
The report says that stability in the northeast was achieved by India after long years of turmoil. Despite, the row over the CAA, keeping the peace in Assam and the rest of the northeast by “preventing the existing remnants of insurgent groups from gaining any traction among the populace, and inhibiting the sprouting of new insurgencies, must remain a priority for India”.