[ Tongam Rina ]
More than 50 years ago, the Chakmas and Hajongs were forced to flee the Chittagong Hill Tracts because of displacement following construction of the Kaptai dam and religious persecution.
Some of them were rehabilitated in Arunachal in 1964 in designated camps and most of them have remained in camps, with no facilities whatsoever to speak of.
One might argue that when it comes to facilities or the lack of it, they remain at par with vast majority of poor Arunachalees.
But then, vast majority of Arunachalees, though they have no access to basic facilities, call Arunachal home, which is comforting.
But one cannot say the same about the Chakma and Hajong communities. They have for decades lived a life of perpetual uncertainty and sometimes in fear, and their situation has just gotten worse.
By forcing the Supreme Court order, without consulting the people of the state, the centre has sealed the fate of the Chakma and Hajong communities, who already are vulnerable and stateless communities, when there was a chance for negotiation with the Arunachalee students.
This time the BJP government was in such a hurry that it has completely jeopardized whatever little chances of Chakmas and Hajongs becoming acceptable to the people of Arunachal.
All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union, who have been spearheading the movement against the refugees in the state was opening up to the idea of the Indian citizenship rights to the Chakmas and Hajongs.
That small window has been closed with the forceful decision of the centre based on Supreme Court directives.
Arunachal was shut on Tuesday as the AAPSU called a state wide bandh in protest. There were instances of confrontation and at some places violence but it did not go out of hand. The state police and the students must be commended for not letting it go out of control.
One is not sure if the centre received the news. The twitter handles of Minister of State for home Kiren Rijiju and Chief Minister Pema Khandu had no mention whatsoever of the bandh in the state.
Turbulent Tuesday was forced on Arunachal by the centre and the spineless and unimaginative leadership of Rijiju and Khandu.
Rijiju might turn around and blame the state government for not deporting the refugees. But as a central minister, he should by now know that the refugee issue is not a state subject. If he wants to deport the Chakmas and Hajongs as a central minister, he is free to advice his own ministry and not blame it onto the clueless Chief Minister.
The people of the state know that Pema Khandu walked into the well-laid trap of the centre and perhaps, he will be forgiven but only time will tell as we do not yet know of what exactly transpired in the meeting in Delhi.
But Pema Khandu and Kiren Rijiju will go down in the history of the state as people who failed not only the people of the state but Chakmas and Hajongs as well.
The way forward is to take a collective decision keeping in the mind the fact that Chakmas and Hajongs deserve citizenship. It would be foolish to say that they remain in their camps forever. But for a collective decision to happen, centre must take into account what the students of Arunachal say.
In the meantime, it is advisable that BJP central leadership listens to these students and keeps communication channels open.
By now, politicians who are fighting for the Chief Minister’s chair should know that the citizenship issue is too sensitive a subject to play with.