Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament amid vociferous protests from the members who had been firmly opposing the bill. While Shah made loud effort to justify the introduction of the controversial bill, the debate on the issue primarily rested on whether it was against the very foundation of the Indian Constitution and the tradition of state-sponsored secularism. It may be mentioned that the bill proposes amendments to a 1955 law to provide citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the Muslim-majority nations of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Once passed, it will grant citizenship to persecuted people from across the borders, provided they have resided in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014.
What was significant in the unfolding drama was that there was no noteworthy debate based on why the bill had been stiffly opposed by the people in the Northeast states. Amid the cacophony that reverberated in Parliament, Amit Shah assured that the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system would be introduced in Manipur fulfilling the long demand by the people of the state. Thereafter, Manipur will be exempted from the purview of CAB. According to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the CAB will not be applicable to Northeast regions protected by ILP and areas governed under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. How exactly will ILP, a colonial protective system and an offshoot of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873 shield the Northeastern states from CAB has not been specified in detail.
Any discerning observers should note that ILP was originally crafted to protect colonial commercial interests by prohibiting British subjects from entering into identified areas to prevent them from establishing any commercial ventures that could go against colonial objectives. Though the words “British subjects” were replaced by Citizen of India in 1950 and the ILP officially continued to be used to protect “tribal cultures” in the Northeast. While the applicability and usefulness of the system to prevent illegal immigration have had many loopholes, there is still a need to seriously debate on how a state like Manipur can possibly halt the steady flow of migrants and immigrants that could certainly create demographic imbalance.
Whatever said and done, the Union home minister’s assurance on introducing ILP in Manipur has been welcomed by the BJP-led state government marked by uncanny celebrations. Earlier in the day, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union home minister for assuring to introduce ILP in the state. A visibly delighted Biren has gone on record stating the “apprehension that influx of outsiders will marginalise the indigenous communities due to Citizenship Amendment Bill has now been put to rest.” The chief minister had also acknowledged the movement launched by the people of Manipur demanding the implementation of ILP in the state while indirectly underplaying the mass resistance to the introduction of CAB. Now, it is left to be seen how the politics of killing two birds with one stone could have long-term impact and implications in the coming years.