Only Con­nect

Protests dur­ing PM visit un­der­line what the north­east needs and what it doesn’t

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - AN EPIPHANY OF IDEAS -

Acom­mon com­plaint in In­dia is the in­ad­e­quacy of in­fra­struc­ture. In the north­east par­tic­u­larly, given its ge­og­ra­phy, it is widely recog­nised that better con­nec­tiv­ity will boost eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing tourism. And yet Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s trip to three north­east states – As­sam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura – was greeted with wide­spread protests, even as he was ded­i­cat­ing a slew of devel­op­ment projects there. The protests were against the Cit­i­zen­ship (Amend­ment) Bill and they point to the anger that now pre­vails against BJP in a re­gion where it had made major political in­roads over the last few years and where it had been hop­ing to increase its Lok Sabha tally from 8 to 20 in the com­ing elec­tions.

The Cit­i­zen­ship Bill presents two se­ri­ous prob­lems. It is in­her­ently dis­crim­i­na­tory as it seeks to di­lute fil­ters in the grant of cit­i­zen­ship to Hin­dus and other mi­nori­ties from Bangladesh, Pak­istan and Afghanistan, but ex­cludes Mus­lims. In ad­di­tion, it ig­nores the long stand­ing anx­i­ety in the north­east about the loss of lin­guis­tic and cul­tural iden­tity in the wake of waves of im­mi­gra­tion. BJP’s al­lies in the re­gion are op­pos­ing the bill and even the party’s chief min­is­ter in Ma­nipur, N Biren Singh, has called for its re­view.

This is­sue over­whelmed the pos­i­tive di­men­sion of Modi’s visit. For ex­am­ple in Agar­tala he inau­gu­rated the Gar­jee-Belo­nia rail­way line, in Hol­langi he laid the foun­da­tion stone for a green­field air­port, he also laid the foun­da­tion stone for an all-weather tun­nel un­der Se La. This is a crit­i­cal moun­tain pass con­nect­ing Tawang to the rest of Arunachal, which will al­low faster troop mo­bil­ity along the bor­der with China, and amounts to a be­lated recog­ni­tion of the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance of the re­gion. Separately, in As­sam there were an­nounce­ments about a new bridge across the Brahma­pu­tra and cre­ation of a gas grid.

Modi said the Cit­i­zen­ship Bill will not ad­versely im­pact the north­east. But that is un­likely to soothe anx­i­eties in a re­gion which has seen vi­o­lent con­flict over mi­gra­tion. As­sam has in the past been chal­lenged by vi­o­lence and long spells of stu­dent ag­i­ta­tions over this is­sue. Other states in the north­east too share As­sam’s anx­i­eties. In Ma­nipur, for ex­am­ple, even ven­dors protested against the bill dur­ing Modi’s visit to the re­gion. This bill should be al­lowed to lapse, more so be­cause NDA doesn’t have the nec­es­sary sup­port for its pas­sage in Ra­jya Sabha.

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