This article is a continuation of the article titled ‘Agitation Against the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019’ published in the Vol. XXIV, No. 2 of this journal. As discussed in that article, on the eve of the 17th Lok Sabha Election the BJP led National Democratic Alliance government could not convince the agitators who protested the Citizenship Amendment Bill that the Bill would not hurt the sentiments of the people. In the Northeast the Scheduled Tribes could not believe that they would be protected by the Constitutional Schedules V and VII and Inner Line Permit System. The introduction of a bill to grant Scheduled Tribe status to Koch Rajbongshi, Chutia, Moran, Matak, Tai Ahom, and Tea Tribes could not appease the agitation in Assam. The situation was politically tricky and tense. There was unrest everywhere.
The 17th Lok Sabha Election was fast approaching, and the political parties tried to act in such a way as to invoke sentiment as to attract voters to their respective sides. The BJP alliances became unstable due to the protest by the non-BJP parties, such as, (a) the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) in Assam, (b) the National People’s Party, the People’s Democratic Front, and the Hill State People’s Democratic Party in Meghalaya, (c) the National People’s Party and the Naga People’s Front in Manipur, (d) the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland, (e) the Mizo National Front in Mizoram, and (f) the Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura in Tripura. Opposition parties took advantage of the situation to escalate unrest and destabilise the BJP led governments. In the words of Gaurav Choudhury, “The North East states send 25 members of the Lok Sabha. The BJP was targeting to win 21 of these, a possibility that now looks shaky. The BJP, however, would be hoping the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will help the party make significant inroads among the Bengali Hindu votes in West Bengal that has 42 Lok Sabha seats. But will these be enough to offset the potential losses in North East? As of now, that looks like a calculated risk.”1
The BJP made an unofficial tactical retreat. It never said that the Bill would be withdrawn. The CAB was twice listed in the revised Business Lists of the Rajya Sabha on 12th and 13th February. Since the Bill could not be moved due to disruption and adjournments, it was bound to lapse naturally unless the BJP would be resolute in pressing upon the President to pass an ordinance. The BJP did not go into such an extremity. However, it continued to convey in the Hindu dominated areas of Assam and West Bengal that it would enact CAB if it come to power again in the 17th Lok Sabha Election. Popular militancy against the Bill suddenly lost relevance after 13th February, though the demand for the withdrawal of the Bill persisted. The BJP and its opponents were in a win-win situation. The opponents figured themselves out as the champion of secularism and defenders of the rights of the indigenes of the Northeast. The BJP estimated itself as listening to the voice of the Northeast by allowing the Bill to remain idle in the Parliament, and as the champion of the cause of the section of ‘migrants’ as it promised to enact a law to ensure their citizenship in India.
An aggressive push after the election
In May 2019, the BJP and its alliances won the 17th Lok Sabha Election with a huge victory margin (353 out of 554 seats). The new National Democratic Alliance Government decided to amend the Citizenship Act as soon as possible. But there was widespread protest against it throughout India. In the northeast, the North East Forum of Indigenous Peoples (NEFIP), which was formed on 3rd April 2019 as a conglomeration of civil society organisations across the region, took a firmed stand against the proposed amendment in September. On 25th September 2019, the NEFIP resolved to launch a series of protest from 3rd October. The call of protest was supported by many, resulting into break down of the normal functioning of the administration in several parts of the Northeast.
The government played several tactics such as propaganda in favour of the Amendment, repressions, divide and weaken, to tone down the consistency and magnitude of protests in the northeast. Finally, 9th December the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was reintroduced in the Lok Sabha, which was debated and passed on the following day. According to Article 2(4) of the Bill, it would not be applicable to certain exempted areas of the Northeast. It reads, “Nothing in this section shall apply to tribal area of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under “The Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873.” This exemption created a division in the attempted united front such as the NEFIP. Many in the exempted regions seemed to have taken a retreat from the agitation. In this manner, the biggest setback was seen in Manipur, where civil society organizations had been playing a dominant role in NEFIP and the protest. The dramatic retreat was witnessed on 12th December 2019 when the government passed the Adaptation of Law (Amendment) Order, 2019. The order extended Inner Line Permit System to the entire “Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and area of districts of Nagaland as notified from time to time.” Many in Manipur took it for granted a complete protection from any possible negative fallout of the proposed Citizenship (Amendment Act), 2019. This retreat derailed the entire process of building a united front in the Northeast and the ongoing protest against the Act. Finally, on 12th December 2019, the Government officially announced the enactment of the controversial Citizen (Amendment) Act, 2019.
A Critique of the Manipur ILP Guidelines 2019
Following the notification of the Adoption of Laws (Amendment) Order, 2019 that extended Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873 to Manipur, the Government of Manipur, on 31st December 2019, issued the Manipur Inner Line Permit Guidelines, 2019. A chunk of the population in Manipur celebrated the occasion. The organisations that had been leading the movement against CAA such as the Manipur People Against Citizenship Bill (MANPAC) and NEFIF took a dramatic retreat. However, it remains to be seen if in the long run the Guidelines will certainly protect the indigenous people of Manipur. Will it adequately address the specific popular demands to protect and promote indigenous people? The demands are: (1) to have a regulatory mechanism to stop unrestraint inflow of ‘migrants’, (2) to prevent ‘migrants’ from owning land, (3) to prevent ‘migrants’ from owning buildings and immovable properties, (4) to prevent ‘migrants’from becoming permanent citizenship and enjoying voting rights, (5) to create a base year so that anyone entering into Manipur after the base year may be identified and deported, and so on.
A serious reading of Manipur Inner Line Permit Guidelines 2019 reveals that there are many points that contradicted the demand to protect and promote indigenous people. The points are being discussed as follows.(1) Definition Exemption: It is mandatory to have a proper definition to determine what constitutes indigenous people and permanent residents in Manipur. To identify indigenous and permanent residents, it is essential to have a base year. This question arises as the Guidelines exempts indigenous people and permanent residents from ILP, though it misses out definitions of the terms. Who are the permanent residents? Can it mean anyone who may obtain a certificate issued by the government for that purpose? A base year is essential to detect and identity either indigenous people or permanent residents. Will the base year be 1951 as demanded by many, or will it be 1971 when Manipur achieved statehood, or which year? Due to the silence on definitions and a base year, the Guidelines has added to the confusion about who should be required to possess an ILP card to enter and live in Manipur. It also creates a condition where a person who enters Manipur by obtaining an ILP card can identify himself with a permanent resident status through different means, and subsequently escapes from the necessity of obtaining an ILP card.
Clause 8 contains certain terms that do not have corresponding definitions. When sub-clause (i) to (vi) exempt “family members,” it requires a proper definition. How will the government respond to a big chunk of the population if they enter Manipur on the claim of “family members?” The term “officers” mentioned in sub-clause (iii) requires a proper definition. A definition has to be mentioned, to be based either based on pay grade or office post designation. Moreover, it needs to be clearly pointed out that only those officers or employees who are posted in Manipur are exempted from ILP during their tenure of posting. Subclause (vii) stipulates, “all executive members of the recognized National and State Political Parties.” It is irrational and must be deleted. If BJP General Secretary had willingly entered Manipur by obtaining an ILP card, why others cannot follow the same procedure? Sub-clause (viii) mentions “educational institutions.” This term is vague and can become manipulative. An “educational institution” should be affiliated to either the Board of Secondary Education Manipur or Council of Higher Secondary Education Manipur or Manipur University or any other government recognized university that has a campus in Manipur. Otherwise, there will be a lack of accountability. Fake educational institutes may come into existence with the sole objectives of promoting migration. Such fake institutions may issue identity cards to over-aged pretenders, as there is no age bar for someone to be a student. The validity of such an ID card may surpass the validity of Special Category Permit. Therefore, an “educational institution” needs to be properly defined.(6) Authority: On the question of issuing the ILP card, the Guidelines accords the government with discretionary power. There are some problems with this. First, when Clause 5 (ii) stipulates, “any other agency authorized by State Government,” the term “any other agency” needs a proper definition. If it has not been properly defined, it is likely to be misinterpreted and manipulated in the interest of those who may misuse the power to outsource or privatize the authority to the hands of private firms or companies or a handpicked team. Second, on the issue of a card to Special Category ILP, Clause 9 (iv) mentions, “any other person as decided by the State Government.” Here, it leaves the door open to manipulation by the powerful, who may issue a Special Category Permit to anyone on any pretext to suit their interests. It also creates a condition whereby Special Category Permits may be granted indiscriminately without any restraint. Third, Clause 22 is entirely irrelevant or unnecessary as it can outplay all the clauses of the Guidelines. It writes, “The State Government has inherent power to relax any of the above guidelines at its discretion.” This clause renders ILP Guidelines as a wholemeaningless. This should be deleted. Or, it may be redrafted.
Second, the ILP Guidelines contravene the Merger Agreement signed between the Government of India and king Bodhachandra. It was as on the terms of the Agreement that the Government of India took over Manipur. It is the responsibility of the Government of India and the dependent Government of Manipur to respect the spirit and terms of the Agreement. Article VIII of the Agreement stipulates, “They [the Government of India] also undertake to preserve various laws, customs and conventions prevailing in the State pertaining to the social, economic and religious life of the people.” The conditions of social and economic life cannot be separated from polity. Similarly, religious life cannot exist independently without population and the value system and culture connected with the spiritual life of the people (population). All these are interconnected. All these can be protected and promoted only when the indigenous people of Manipur are being defended from the pressure of ‘migrants.’
Third, ILP Guidelines overrides the national and indigenous rights of the people of Manipur. It contravenes the spirit and norms of international statutes such as; (a) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), (b) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), (c) International Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969), and (d) the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007.
Fourth, ILP Guidelines contravenes repeated promises made by BJP National and State Unit leaders to respect and protect the interest of the indigenous people of Manipur. In addition to it, the Guidelines also contravene the spirit and demand of the consistent popular movement to defend indigenous rights.
ConclusionIt is the right and duty of the indigenous people of Manipur to protect and promote themselves. It is the utmost duty of the governments of Manipur and India to respect these rights and duties. If government policies contravene these rights and duties; it can only be that the indigenous people of Manipur are deemed to be completely subjugated and overruled to fulfil a hidden agenda. If the efforts to defend indigenous rights conflicted with the Constitution of India (such as Fundamental Rights or VII Schedule), it can be solved by inserting an exceptional provision or by amending the Constitution accordingly. It cannot be that the Agreement of 1949 was signed (or people of Manipur remained silent when India took over them) to promote domination by ‘migrants’ and for destruction. The Government of Manipur, being a dependent unit of the Government of India, may be powerless to pursue many local issues with firmness and boldness. However, on those issues that the Government of Manipur is not in a position to make a decision boldly, it must entrust the matter to the people, so that popular movement can raise the case to a higher level. On the contrary, if the Government of Manipur indulges in the policy of escapism, lies, and diversion only to divert the interest and demand of the people; its exaggerated rhetoric becomes an oxymoron and shows the symptom of an animated or spineless leadership that is remote controlled by an alien force indifferent to the interests and rights of the indigenous people of Manipur. The mistakes must be rectified and changes must be inserted in the Manipur Inner Line Permit Guidelines 2019.
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