The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will make the Manipur People’s (Protection) Bill, 2018 (henceforth the People’s Bill) a painful joke. The faint-hearted position taken by the State government is stated in its press release dated January 10, 2019. It is a matter of shame that the government is taking the issue lightly at the cost of our future.
Also, the State Cabinet’s decision to urge the Centre to give assent to the People’s Bill is a face saving act in the wake of passing the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (henceforth the Citizenship Bill) in the Lok Sabha. Before, the State government fell into deep slumber since the passing of the People’s Bill on July 23, 2018.
Surprisingly, State government is calling for exemption of Manipur from the jurisdiction of the Citizenship Bill. Every thinking soul will find it difficult to digest. It looks more like a political farce. Probably, lack of clarity on the part of the officials is adding fuel to the fire. Or, it is a game of puppetry driven by wrong judgement in New Delhi. If timing is important, Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Imphal carries a message open to interpretation.
The People’s Bill is not a shield behind which Manipur can hide. It does not stop anyone who will visit Manipur with identity cards or such other documents to prove the person as bona fide citizen of India. In this context, additional population from India’s neighbouring countries could take advantage of the Citizenship Bill to look for opportunities across India including Manipur.
The Bill will only empower the State authorities to register non-Manipur People visiting the State and issue pass accordingly to regulate their entry and exit. A pass with a cost to discourage dumping of population may be considered. Nevertheless, identifying the bona fide citizen of India will remain a loophole as forgery and backdoor channels are common.
Passing of the Citizenship Bill means more people coming to Northeast India and acceptance of those already living there. The Centre has failed to implement the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 to detect and deport a large number of illegal immigrants living in the country. The Citizenship Bill will take a U-turn instead. It is a well known fact that demographic threat has been driving political movements in Northeast India including insurgency.
The State government’s position on the Citizenship Bill is an insult to the indigenous peoples’ movements in Northeast India. It questions the sanctity and rationale of the 1985 Assam Accord and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). It makes a mockery of the demand for a permit system in Manipur as well. Happy-go-lucky attitude of the government is a major setback for the state and the region as a whole.
Instead of opposing the controversial Bill, the government is referring to mere apprehension in the minds of the people about the State getting flooded with a large number of illegal immigrants and foreigners from neighbouring countries. In fact, the issue of illegal immigrants is a reality we have seen in Northeast India, not just an apprehension.
Moreover, official corruption and vote bank politics are rampant in the State itself. The position taken supports the Centre’s attempt for an electoral surgical strike before the upcoming assembly elections in many states. In the process, the State government will join the Centre in opening the floodgates of immigrants. This indifferent attitude underscores the political impotency and inability to analyse the issue critically.
First, the Citizenship Bill is communal. Moreover, the Bill will put more pressure on land and resources in Northeast India. Even in states where land rights are restricted only to the native peoples, the extra population will add more burdens as far as economic activities and employment opportunities are concerned. More candidates competing for jobs will cost the ethnic minorities.
Meanwhile, the fear of big corporations grabbing land and natural resources has increased in the wake of the North East Development Summit 2017. The People’s Bill merely prohibits non-Manipur people acquiring of land in Manipur without the consent and sanction of the State government authorities. In October 2018, speaking at the India Today Conclave East 2018, Chief Minister Biren rightly said that it will not bar anybody from buying property or settling down in the State.
With President of India’s assent, the Bill will help the State government regulate (or facilitate) land ownership by non-Manipur people or Multinational Corporation. It clarifies that the People’s Bill is not a defensive shield against the Citizenship Bill. In search of a mechanism to shield Manipur from the existing socio-political challenges, the Government of Manipur must add more teeth to the People’s Bill and stand firm against the Citizenship Bill.
Dr. Puyam Rakesh Singh
N.B. Article sent to Imphal Times which coincides with the editorial policy of this Newspaper are provided space so that the idea and criticism of the writer is the voice of this newspaper