People of Assam demanding to scrap Citizenship Ammendment Act
While the north eastern states have raised their concerns around the issue of influx, Modi Government has factored them very comprehensively in the CAA. Needless to say the region cannot afford to derail the economic path that has just picked up momentum as also impact the business friendliness perception that has just started changing
As we enter 2020 and also a new decade, with not so pleasant memories in 2019, one is bound to ask what is in store for the north eastern region. Right at the beginning of 2019, in January when the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was passed by Lok Sabha some regions in the North Eastern states erupted in protests and as the year was ending when the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha deliberated and passed the revised CAB, protests were once again seen but with severe violence and vandalism particularly in Assam and Meghalaya. The ruling BJP in the Centre and almost in every state governments in the region had clearly mentioned in its election manifesto about bringing in the CAB after confabulations with all the stakeholders and tribal groups and the Home Minister of India Amit Shah personally met more than 140 delegations besides the various discussions engaged by the ruling party politicians as well as government officials. In the Lok Sabha elections, BJP did very well particularly in Assam and in a few seats including the prestigious Guwahati seat, the few opposition contestants who made CAB the main poll issue, even lost their security deposits.
Now that the CAB has become the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and hence the law of the land with the President of India’s assent on December 12 and the matter has been taken to the Supreme Court of India (SC) by 59 petitioners, the spate of protests will simply be futile if not creating disruptions and inconvenience to the common people. Till the SC decides the cases, all parties should wait. The protests around the passage of the CAA have seen mob violence of unprecedented scale as also brazen defying of prohibitory orders. Mobile internet connections and later broadband connectivity had to be suspended to control the social media misuse to spread rumours and mobilise. So much has been destroyed in Guwahati alone and the mob had advanced to even attack the Assam state secretariat. They damaged the Sankardev Kalakshetra, a fine institution built under the provisions of the Assam accord of 1985 to which the protestors swear by. The restraint that the police forces have shown in many places across Assam and also in Shillong Meghalaya is worth mentioning despite the injuries to many of them. Sadly there have been incidents of firing and precious lives also lost in Assam, many of them being caught in the melee around.
The bigger worry for the region is the issue of economic losses that the region has taken. The suspension of internet connectivity has caused serious disruptions to everyone in the region and businesses have suffered. As the pace and fury of the protests have come down, many from the business community have come out and mentioned about the financial losses they have suffered across the states. Many more have voiced their concerns about the fresh round of perceptions that have now overtaken in many parts of the country and even abroad about the north east region remaining a region of perennial disturbance. Three entrepreneurs from Assam employing more than 100 people each- a tea planter, a multi food chain owner and a hotelier have expressed through their social media platforms about the impact that these protests have had on business and perception despite registering their opposition to the CAA. As per them even protesting and disrupting would be of no avail even with artistic approach but to wait and respect the SC verdict. They feel that building an industry friendly image of the region to boost the economy was more crucial than keeping the region in a state of regular turmoil. Needless to say the agitations of the past and militant attacks and extortions have already impacted the growth of the region.
But the worst was the forced cancellation of the India Japan Prime Minister level summit that was planned in Guwahati on December 15-16 for which a lot of money was spent to beautify the city as also build some infrastructure including the renovated heritage house by the Brahmaputra where the two leaders would have met. This cancellation has not only left a bad impression in diplomatic circles but has also raised concerns around the push for Act East policy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put on fast track in the last four years. In June this year, Japan announced an investment of approximately Rs 13000 crores for the north east region that includes investment and supporting in health managements, forest management, agriculture and irrigations technology, improving road networks and overall network connectivity in the region. Japanese agencies like JICA are already involved in a few states in capacity building projects and India’s gradual and optimal presence in the ASEAN economy was being pushed by Japanese efforts. Even on the socio cultural front, Japanese interest around its Second World War presence in the region has already resulted in their building of “India Peace Memorial” and “Peace Museum” in Manipur and scholarships are being provided to involve local people to visit Japan as also foster war tourism. While fresh dates are yet to be announced for the stalled summit, the fact remains that Japanese are very meticulous about their engagements and investments and South Block has to do the right talking to keep them engaged and interested.
The forced cancellation of the India-Japan Prime Minister level summit that was planned in Guwahati December 15-16 has not only left a bad impression in diplomatic circles but has also put concerns around the push for Act East policy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put on fast track in the last four years
This brings us to the point of realising that economics has to prevail despite the emotions. While the north east region has raised its concerns around the issue of influx, the Modi Government has factored them very comprehensively in the CAA. Needless to say the region cannot afford to derail the economic path that has just picked momentum as also impact the business friendliness perception that has just started changing.
(The writer is Director JOOKTO and works in grassroots in Barak Valley. He was former country head of General Dynamics)