TODAY -

The State and the States: The Northeast in the Centre's vision
- Part 2 -

Sanjoy Hazarika and Niyati Singh *

Map of NE India
Map of NE India



Two critical issues on migration need to be answered:

o How will the state ensure that a bonafide citizen will not be harmed or perceived as an illegal immigrant, as is happening with hundreds of Bengali Muslims who have been labelled as Doubtful (D) voters (a term whose exact mandate remains unclear)?
o If Bangladesh will not accept these so-called 'illegal immigrants' how can they be deported?

A few facts about Bangladesh speak loudly despite all the vitriol hurled at it: its current Human Development Index (HDI) is higher than that of Assam, thereby offering individuals a better standard of living now than in the past. For example, Bangladesh's maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 194 while Assam's is 300. The Bangladesh government has also set up an Assistant High Commission in Guwahati, its second diplomatic presence in the region after Agartala in Tripura.

This indicates that the Centre places great emphasis on Bangladesh as a stable partner. The party's position may be strong but to the government in Delhi, security issues such as Islamist radicalisation and the potential threat of Northeastern rebels, who had set up bases in Bangladesh but were turfed out during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's current term, are as important as 'immigration'.

Under Modi, Delhi has readily signed agreements with Dhaka, for instance, the 2015 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) to exchange enclaves and land in adverse possession, and the 2017 Defence Cooperation Framework. In Guwahati, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal attended a public event organised by the Assistant High Commissioner of Bangladesh.

In addition, the recent Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that makes it less complicated to confer Indian citizenship on Bangladeshi Hindus is in contravention of the Assam Accord, which states that illegal immigrants heading in from Bangladesh post 25 March 1971 would be deported.

Concerns about deteriorating relations with China, with the possible escalation of the confrontation at Doklam, have also caused acute anxiety in the region. According to Shivshankar Menon, India's former National Security Adviser (NSA), the current stand-off at Doklam is 'serious' due to China's attempt to change the status quo at the tri-junction with Bhutan and its unwillingness to return to the status quo. India has an understanding with Bhutan that any attack on Bhutanese sovereignty will be considered an attack on India. However, Bhutan is also a very reluctant actor in this play-off between its two giant neighbours.

Secret Naga Accord

On 3 August 2015, the Modi government announced that an agreement had been concluded on the Naga issue. However, it later declined to give details, saying that it would be kept secret for the present. The reasons for secrecy are best known to the government and its contents have been the subject of speculation.

What is truly crucial for the success of the final agreement is that the government must work with all groups of Nagas, for that is where it will be truly tested.

A consensual approach is needed, even if it does not end in a full consensus among all sides. As many views as possible need to be accommodated. It is surprising that some are even hailing this Accord without having seen its contents. The Naga response is muted, having seen such agreements before.

In response to a Right to Information (RTI) petition seeking details of the Accord filed by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Coordinator Venkatesh Nayak, the Central Information Commission (CIC) upheld the government’s decision not to reveal details, citing "compelling public interest."

Representation is another important factor to consider. While the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is the most dominant armed group, there are others like the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) which claim to represent Nagas. Konyaks regard the NSCN (K) as representative while the Angamis continue to look towards the Naga National Council (NNC). This divisive issue has to be resolved for long-term peace and acceptance of the final accord by all Naga tribes.

On 9 May this year, the NSCN-IM, in a press release, stated that they have accepted the idea of “shared sovereignty” and co-existence with India. The concept of “shared sovereignty,” as understood from the NSCN (IM)’s perspective, implies that it can share in the central government’s initiatives. However, does this substantially amount to anything beyond the idea of greater autonomy in centre-state relations?

While Modi posited the Nagas as "guardians of our eastern frontiers and our gateway to the world beyond" during his speech at the 2015 peace signing ceremony, the Accord remains shrouded in secrecy, casting a shadow on government concessions. New demands elsewhere have emerged.

There is an additional development that rises above these issues and is positive: more and more individuals are leaving the Northeast than ever before by a range of compelling reasons: poverty (despite the region's rich resources), poor infrastructure, and conditions created by AFSPA, among others. Although some of the migrants are at the receiving end of discriminatory treatment arising out of cultural ignorance and differences in facial appearance, they stay on. Others are coming out to join them.

The attitude of the Centre in some basic aspects appears unchanged from the previous regime: where, for example, does “poriborton” appear when considering the recent flood devastation in Assam where over 100 people have died? Floods are national problems not confined to one state.

However, since the government appears to be stuck in a different nationalist narrative, more attention is now being paid to Ramkinkar Baij's statue of Mahatma Gandhi, erected in Guwahati decades ago, which was being dismantled because it presented a "distorted image" of him.

There are limits to manufactured consent and manufactured peace.


(Concluded)

Courtesy : Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies


* Sanjoy Hazarika and Niyati Singh (Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), New Delhi) wrote this article for Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies and published at The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 21, 2017.


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