The 4th Conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) held in Guwahati on Monday was a high voltage conclave with attendance of Union Home Minister and BJP National President Amit Shah and all eight Chief Ministers of the Northeast. This is the first NEDA Conclave since 2016, with all eight CMs together on the same dais.
Nothing much was expected out of this conclave, except for a show of strength by the BJP along with its allies from the North East, until Meghalaya Chief Minister and NPP president Conrad Sangma raised the issue of NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2016. His concerns were genuine. Soon he was backed by his counterpart from Mizoram Zoramthanga and Nagaland Neiphiu Rio. Thus, the course of the conclave shifted to NRC and CAB 2016. At the peak of the debate on CAB 2016, towards the last months of the first term of the Modi government, the entire North East was at boiling point. Protests demonstrations, shut down calls dominated the headlines. It rang the warning bells for the BJP, who strongly advocates for CAB 2016.
On September 9, during the 4th NEDA Conclave, when Conrad Sangma raised the issue of NRC and CAB, followed by Zoramthanga and Neiphiu Rio, everyone in the hall thought that it would open a Pandora's box. But perhaps BJP, the major stakeholder of NEDA was looking for one such opportunity to clear the air over CAB 2016 particularly. It was one such opportunity because all their alliance partners were on the same dais at the same time. Moreover, all of them took a stand against the CAB 2016. After all the chief ministers and party chiefs, Union Home Minister and BJP National President Amit Shah went to the podium to speak. In his speech, Amit Shah not only cleared the doubts centering CAB 2016 but also set the agenda for a fresh discourse on it.
Starting from cut off a year to whether this bill will have an adverse impact on the customary laws, settlement rights, land rights of the indigenous people in some of the Northeastern States, Article 371, Inner Line Permit, etc. there were many doubts. People, student bodies, civil society organizations, and politicians had a fear that it will not only impact the demographic pattern of the region but will also pose a threat to the cultural identity of the region.
The Union Home Minister and BJP President not only allayed the fears but also assured that the passing of this bill will change nothing as far as existing laws are concerned. Explaining the difference between Article 370 and Article 371, Amit Shah said, "There is no similarity between these two except being in a sequence." Reaffirming that not a single infiltrator will be allowed to stay in India, Shah reiterated that those detected will be deported. Speaking on the cut off the year, an issue raised by Conrad Sangma, Shah said that only those who came before December 31, 2014, will be allowed citizenship if CAB 2016 is passed and not to anyone who came after that.
The response to Amit Shah's speech has been very positive. Conrad Sangma and other Chief Minister's who raised the issue looked hopeful. Conrad said that he will have further discussion with the other groups who are against CAB 2016. However, the All Assam Students' Union is not happy with the assurance given by Shah. Speaking to Republic, a top leader of the AASU said that there is no question of accepting foreigners up to 2014. It may be noted that Assam has already taken the burden of foreigners until 1971, and the NRC is to detect those who came after 1971, pointed the AASU leader. They fear that it CAB 2016 will derail the entire NRC exercise. However, the mixed response has little to do with the ground reality if we look back at the election results of 2019 General Elections. The NEDA won 19 out of 25 seats in the Northeast when the anti CAB 2016 agitation was at its peak.