On 18th October, the Arunachal Pradesh State Assembly adopted a resolution against the grant of citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs who were settled in the State, then North East Frontier Agency by the Union of India during 1964-1969.
The resolution reflects indecisiveness of Pema Khandu government of Arunachal Pradesh. Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and Chief Minister Pema Khandu while addressing the golden jubilee celebration of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) on 15 October 2017 announced that they will show in the State Assembly what they have been doing on the Chakma and Hajong issue. When a Union Minister of State or Chief Minister compete with students bodies, it raises serious questions about the governance ability.
The State Assembly and politicians might have been able to fool the students and public as the Tibetan Refugee Policy was quietly adopted, but the resolution shall have no impact on the judicial process before the Supreme Court except possibly constituting contempt of court if it scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, the Supreme Court. The resolution in the State Assembly only makes the case easier for the Chakmas and Hajongs before the Supreme Court in the hearings as they shall no longer be required to prove their case as to why the citizenship applications are not being processed.
Rather than the Chakmas and Hajongs, the resolution poses a bigger question for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the RSS. The Chakmas and Hajongs migrated 54 years ago and were settled by the Union of India in NEFA. Any person who had come during 1964-1968 had been granted citizenship. As the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process comes to close, sooner or later, Assam will be under pressure to pass such resolutions with respect to Hindu refugees in Assam.
The resolution further goes against Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 and the order that Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Sikh refugees from Undivided India on or before 31.12.2014 with or without visa can stay in India and effectively settle down. In the context of this policy decision, the resolution adopted by the BJP ruled Arunachal Pradesh is nothing short of a slap on the face of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP and the RSS which tenaciously built the case for protection of mainly Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The entire discourse in the State Assembly and outside the State Assembly on the Chakmas and Hajongs has been built on falsehood. First, the Chakma population is described in such a manner that the Chakmas belong to the rabbits. Second, when Chief Minister Pema Khandu paints entire Chakmas as criminals, he forgets the Himachal Pradesh police had investigated hawala money trails upto to Karmapa Lama but we do know that the allegation neither makes Karmapa Lama or entire Tibetans criminals. Third, Khandu further stated that Tibetans do not seek Indian citizenship as they are being settled in Canada. That is being economical with the truth as students of Arunachal Pradesh alleged that Tibetans are mixing up with local Tibetan origin communities and not all Tibetans will be settled in Canada or elsewhere. For its own geo-political interest, India has to keep Tibetan refugee issue alive as the leverage against China. Finally, the people of Arunachal Pradesh have some special rights under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873. It is a matter of fact that when the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation was enacted in 1873, the Chitttagong Hill Tracts was included and British had not brought the North East Frontier Tracts (before NEFA) under the Regulation. Further under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, Deputy Commissioner is required to give permission and the Deputy Commissioner is a servant of the Government of India which settled the Chakmas in the NEFA. That the local leaders were not consulted or Arunachal Pradesh was not a State, is non-est.
There are three potential fallouts of the resolution in the State Assembly for the BJP, the Chakmas and Hajongs and Scheduled Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.
First, it has electoral consequences for Bharatiya Janata Party and its policy with respect to the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Sikh minorities who are genuinely subjected to repression. In the North east, there shall be a price that the BJP has to pay for the flip-flop on the issue.
Second, Chakmas and Hajongs have gone through far worst suffering in Arunachal Pradesh and the resolution can do no more harm. “Citizenship” has become infractuous as only about 5,000 migrant survivors of 1960s out of 55,000 Chakmas and Hajongs are actually seeking citizenship and the rest are citizens by birth. In another 20 odd years time, say by 2041 census, not a single migrant survivor will remain, but it is still seems possible that Chakmas and Hajong who are citizens by birth would still be struggling to get their enrolment into electoral rolls and they would have to remain united to the extent possible by the cause as they had been in the last 54 years.
Third, by the current population growth rate, non-Scheduled Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh facilitated by the opening up of the State with trains and globalisation will possibly cross the number of the population of the Scheduled Tribes. Nobody knows better than MLA Mr TC Mein in whose constituency, Tea plantation labourers decide who becomes the MLA. Nobody in Arunachal Pradesh cares that Chakma and Hajong population growth rate from 1964 to 2011 was 218% like the STs of the State while the population of the non-Scheduled Tribes arose by 1,000% during the same period – a direct consequence of tribalism and ethno-centrism. That has also been the history of the autochtones across the world during European colonisation. That has been the history of the Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Chittagong Hill Tracts in the post decolonisation period.
Yet, there is not a single conscientious soul from the State to acknowledge the truth. When the Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju uses the term “Arunachalee citizens” as opposed to Indian citizens, we are dealing with a deeper malaise.