Rectifying a historic wrong
The Citizenship Bill reiterates India’s commitment to adherents of Indic faiths
Sixty-nine years after he had resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest against the Nehru-Liaqat Pact, in protest against Nehru's indifferent attitude towards Hindus of East Pakistan, the Citizenship Amendment Bill brought about by the Narendra Modi government fulfilled, among other things, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee's promise made to the Hindus of East Pakistan/Bangladesh. Opening the possibility of minorities – Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Christians, Parsis – of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to come over to India and settle here with dignity when faced with religious persecution, is a historic move to rectify a historic wrong. India, the natural homeland of Hindus, India the natural civilisational space of all Indic religions and faiths, which had, post-independence turned away from her commitment to shelter adherents of Indic faiths, recognised and reiterated that ignored civilisational duty once more.
As the Bill was being debated on the floor of the House, one recalled the words of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee spoken in the very same House 69 years ago, while announcing his resignation. Syama Prasad had then said, "When the partition of India became inevitable, I played a very large part in creating public opinion in favour of the partition of Bengal, for I felt that if that was not done, the whole of Bengal and also perhaps Assam would fall into Pakistan. At that time, little knowing that I would join the first Central Cabinet, I along with others, gave assurances to the Hindus of East Bengal, stating that if they suffered at the hands of the future Pakistan Government, if they were denied elementary rights of citizenship, if their lives and honour were jeopardised or attacked, Free India would not remain an idle spectator and their just cause would be boldly taken up by the Government and people of India…Let us not forget that the Hindus of East Bengal are entitled to the protection of India, not on humanitarian considerations alone, but by virtue of their sufferings and sacrifices, made cheerfully for generations, not for advancing their own parochial interests, but for laying the foundations of India's political freedom and intellectual progress…." (April 19, 1950)
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, also shows that Jana Sangh then and BJP now has not renegaded on its original commitment of safeguarding the interests of Hindus of Pakistan then, and now in a wider sense, the interests and welfare of minorities in India's immediate neighbourhood of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Matuas of West Bengal and numerous organisations and platforms championing the interests of the Hindu refugees who have been demanding such an amendment for ages have finally realised their aspiration because of the proactive approach on the issue made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Bengali-Hindus who had come away as refugees to West Bengal from East Pakistan and later Bangladesh, and were exploited politically by the communist dispensations and those that followed them while never being conferred with the right of citizenship, now realise that all propaganda about Narendra Modi and BJP being against the interest of the Bengali-Hindu were mere falsehood perpetrated with an eye on the Muslim infiltrator vote bank. By this one act, Narendra Modi has fulfilled one of his most fundamental election promises, of ensuring that India becomes once more the natural home of Hindus across the world and the land of refuge for adherents of Indic faiths. Those opposing it in West Bengal are doing so because the differentiation between a refugee and an infiltrator deals a decisive blow to their politics of appeasement and vote-bank.
Some of our friends in Assam and in other northeastern states have expressed their reservation on this move; they are understandably worried about the future of their own cultural identity, faiths and way of life. Prime Minister Modi was categorical on this too. While speaking to a massive gathering in Silchar, Assam, he reiterated his commitment to protect and safeguard the unique identities of those inhabiting India's northeast and of especially preserving their rights and ways of life. The possibilities under Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord – the Accord signed during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure – were activated with the Modi government setting a high-level special committee of eminent people from Assam to look into and make recommendations for measures to operationalise Clause 6.
No Congress government since 1985 thought of doing it, the Congress had a Prime Minister for a decade in the Upper House from Assam and, yet, it did not show the courage and commitment to initiate this most fundamental move to operationalise one of the most crucial aspects of the Assam Accord. It is again Modi, who has displayed the gumption, the prescience, the commitment to find solutions to vexatious issues that had been left burning or pending, for decades, by past Congress dispensations. For Modi, transforming India means not only growth and investments, it also means the determination to sort out, in the spirit of equity and balance, issues and challenges from the past that have been left unaddressed, or been allowed to fester in order to derive political mileage. For Modi, untangling historic knots, cutting complex Gordian knots while keeping the interest and aspirations of all sections in mind, is fundamental and essential to his vision of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas" – that profession of intent is not a mere claptrap or slogan.
The declaration of granting Tribal Status to six communities in Assam – Motoks, Morans, Chutia, Koch-Rajbangshi, Tai Ahom and Tea Tribes/Adibachi – following the recommendations made by the Registrar General of India and the Scheduled Tribes Commission, also demonstrates the Modi government's seriousness in protecting the rights, cultural and linguistic uniqueness, heritage of the indigenous Assamese. Congress and some other parties, the communist parties – now mostly functioning as appendages to the Rahul Gandhi Congress – who are asking why this timing of bringing in this Citizenship Amendment at the fag end of the tenure of the present government, or why this tearing hurry, must actually ask themselves why they did not themselves address it in the first place, especially when they had been in power for a decade at the Centre. For Congress, the North-East had become a convenient ground to support their politics in Delhi, never has the Congress leadership or its first family ever tried to work towards bringing long-term and permanent solutions to problems in the North-East, especially those that have been created by their own historic and often deliberate misjudgments and neglect.
The larger question and issue before Assam and the North-East is, as Assam health and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma asked, whether we will allow the "Jinnah ideology" to triumph or will we get together and defeat it so that India can be saved, so that portions of her can be secured, preserved and protected. Congress has traditionally and habitually shielded the "Jinnah Ideology", it has tangoed with those who have vehemently furthered such a debilitating and subversive ideology. Assam has been a historic victim of the triumph of this destructive ideology, the move of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the other crucial corollary decisions to safeguard Assam, thus, is not only the first major step towards correcting blunders of the past, it is also a first decisive step towards arresting the spread and percolation of the "Jinnah Ideology".
In our journey towards making of a new India, this is a historic milestone crossed.
(The author is Director, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)