New Delhi/Itanagar, Sept. 19: The Narendra Modi government’s flip-flops on refugees came to the fore again as the Union home ministry today said it would move the Supreme Court seeking modification in the court’s earlier order on granting citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees living in the Northeast.
The ministry had last week announced that it would grant citizenship to over one lakh Chakma and Hajong refugees, comprising Buddhists and Hindus, but today it did a U-turn saying the Supreme Court’s 2015 order was “unimplementable” as it would change the state’s demography.
“The Centre will move the apex court seeking modification in its earlier order as it is not implementable. We cannot accept it as the rights of the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh should be protected,” junior home minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters today. Asked about the Centre’s decision on Wednesday to grant citizenship to them, he refused comment.
The statement came in the face of widespread protests in Arunachal against the Centre’s decision to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees.
These two tribes, fleeing religious persecution in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), had migrated to India in the 1960s. They were rehabilitated mostly in Arunachal Pradesh (1964-69). In September 2015, the Supreme Court had passed an order on a petition filed by the Committee for Citizenship Rights of the Chakmas, directing the central and state governments to grant them citizenship within three months. The order was opposed by political parties and various groups, including the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) which claimed that the Chakmas and Hajongs had moved out of their designated camps and encroached on thousands of hectares of forest land.
Last week, the Centre decided to grant citizenship to Chakmas and Hajongs but without the rights enjoyed by the Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal, including land ownership.
A senior home ministry official said the decision on Chakma and Hajong refugees was a part of the Centre’s plan to grant citizenship to non-Muslim prosecuted minorities from neighbouring countries. “The provision was already made in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which seeks to grant citizenship to hundreds of Hindu minority refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It clearly fits into the government’s plan to grant citizenships only to non-Muslim minorities,” he said. The U-turn, he said, was because of the widespread protests in the Northeast. “Rijiju is an MP from the region,” he added.
The Centre’s move to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees settled in Arunachal Pradesh had drawn flak from the AAPSU, the Congress and other NGOs and pressure groups in the state. A 12-hour dawn-to-dusk bandh, called by AAPSU, evoked a total response today. Protests erupted across the state all day long with bandh supporters damaging a number of government and private vehicles and enforcing a total shutdown in Itanagar and in most districts. There were reports of clashes at Bank Tinali in Itanagar as police resorted to caning to disperse protesters. Several protesters and three police personnel were injured.
Reports of violence also came in from Namsai, Changlang and several other districts as all educational and banking institutions, and government and private offices remained closed throughout the day as almost all tribal organisations, NGOs and even the public backed the statewide bandh.
AAPSU general secretary Tobom Dai said the bandh’s success reflected that the indigenous people were against the Centre’s decision to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees. He said they would intensify their movement if a solution was not forthcoming. He also warned of a non-cooperation movement against the Centre if required and questioned the silence of the state MPs on the matter.
Dai said they had to resort to bandh as their repeated pleas had fallen on deaf ears. “How can New Delhi take a decision on a serious issue without taking the people of Arunachal into confidence?” he asked.
AAPSU president Hawa Bagang expressed regret over the untoward incidents that took place during the day but said, “Not only the union’s volunteers but even the public took to the streets. The people supported the bandh call not for AAPSU but for the sake of Arunachal.”
Chief minister Pema Khandu had yesterday written to Union home minister Rajnath Singh warning him of the consequences. “Arunachal Pradesh is a predominantly tribal state and the Constitution gives special protection rights to the people of the state. These provisions were legislated with the singular objective to protect the tribes of the state from the onslaught of an alien culture and overwhelming influx of non-Arunachalees. The state is not ready to accept any infringement of the constitutional protection bestowed on the tribal people of the state,” he said.
Source inputs: The Telegraph