Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday said Shah met political parties and civil society members of Tripura and Mizoram for four hours on Friday night and things were moving in the right direction.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday held discussions with leaders of political parties, students bodies and civil society groups of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya on the contours of the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and listened to their views, sources said. Chief Ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya Sarbananda Sonowal, Pema Khandu and Conrad Sangma respectively, Union minister Kiren Rijiju, several MPs attended the meetings separately.
Sonowal said the consultations carried out by Shah will allay all apprehensions on the CAB. “This is a very honest and democratic approach of taking along every section of people of the Northeast. I am sure those who have attended the meetings with the home minister felt assured of the central government’s commitments towards the region,” he told PTI.
Most regional parties and civil society groups raised the issue of how CAB could affect the tribals. Sources said the home minister is learnt to have indicated to them that the CAB may not affect the tribal areas protected by the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime and those who are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
These areas may be exempted from the ambit of the proposed bill, Shah is believed to have conveyed to the delegations, sources said. Later, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said even though most of the civil society groups have opposed the earlier bill, the new redrafted bill will ensure that the interests of the ILP-regime areas and the Sixth Schedule areas are protected.
Sarma also said a separate legislation may be brought on the recommendations of a committee set up by the home ministry to look into the options of providing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people of Assam.
The Assam-based political party AIUDF, headed by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, has opposed the bill, which aims to give citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three neighbouring countries. The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who come to India due to religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan even if they don’t possess proper documents.
Former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Nabam Tuki said they opposed the 2016 bill but if the new bill excludes the ILP-regime states, it can be considered. President of the All Bodo Students Union Pramod Boro said they have conveyed to the home minister that they opposed the CAB as it does not provide any safeguard to the tribal areas. “We want constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people,” he said.
The home minister is holding the meetings on Friday, Saturday and on December 3 in the wake of strong protests in the Northeast against the CAB. On Friday, Shah held meetings with delegations from Tripura and Mizoram.
The ILP regime is applicable in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. In terms of Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, citizens of other states require ILP to visit these three states. The main objective of the ILP system is to prevent settlement of other Indian nationals in the three states in order to protect the indigenous population.
Under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, autonomous councils and districts were created in certain tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. The autonomous councils and districts enjoy certain executive and legislative powers. The CAB was an election promise of the BJP in the 2014 and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
A large section of people and a few organisations in the Northeast have opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a few other political parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion. On Friday, 12 non-BJP MPs belonging to the Northeast have also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to exclude the northeastern states from the purview of the proposed bill, saying if it comes into effect the tribal population of the region will be vulnerable to displacement.
The BJP-led NDA government had introduced the bill in its previous tenure and got the Lok Sabha’s approval. But the government did not introduce it in Rajya Sabha, apparently due to vehement protests in the Northeast. The bill lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.
According to the previous bill, those who came to India on or before December 31, 2014, will benefit from the proposed legislation after it becomes an act. There is a possibility to make changes to the cut-off date too, an official said.
The Modi government has listed the bill in its items of business for the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament and is set to push for its passage. The BJP and its Hindutva affiliates have insisted that minorities from the three countries, which include a significant number of Hindus, should be granted Indian citizenship.