Who would bear Arunachal’s burden?

Monday Musing

[ Amar Sangno ]

Barely days after union Law & Justice Minister Kiren Rijiju’s divulgement of the Centre’s plan to relocate the Chakma-Hajong (CH) refugees from Arunachal, Rijiju’s statement met with ululations from various CH organizations, rejecting the very notion of relocating and shifting them out of Arunachal.

Rijiju stated that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, passed by the BJP government at the Centre was the only constitutional way to counter and overturn the Supreme Court’s 17 September, 2015 directive to the Centre and the state government to grant the CH refugees citizenship of India. Rijiju also vowed that under no circumstances would the indigenous people’s interests and rights be diluted and compromised.

A similar message was conveyed by Chief Minister Pema Khandu in his 75th Independence Day celebration speech. The CM observed that the vexed CH refugees issue needs to be resolved in a humane way, informing that talks are on to relocate the CH refugees from Arunachal.

An elated All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) welcomed the statements of both Khandu and Rijiju with open arms.

“It has been the collective desire and demand of the AAPSU and the indigenous people of Arunachal for so long to relocate them from the state, primarily because the demographic onslaught perpetrated by the CH refugees is causing massive turbulence in the peace-loving tribal society,” AAPSU GS Tobom Dai said.

“Political will and political solution are the only way forward, and we have every reason to believe in the decisive leadership and political acumen of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah,” Dai added, and urged the stakeholders, including the CH organizations, to be reciprocative towards the historic move.

The CH organizations argued that the CAA is subject to interpretation and the act does not apply to the Chakmas and Hajongs who had migrated to Arunachal during 1964-68, as they are governed by the Citizenship Act of 1955. They also claimed that about 90 percent of the Chakmas and Hajongs are citizens of India by birth under Section 3 of the Citizenship Act of 1955.

Though Rijiju’s statement gives a glimmer of hope to the people of Arunachal, especially the Singpho community, which is being outnumbered by the refugees in their own land, the worst nightmare would be if the union minister’s statement turns out to be mere political rhetoric in the hour of Covid-19 desperation. It has often been proven that politicians and political leaders give political statements to assuage discontentment among the masses.

Going by the CH organizations’ reaction to the relocation plan, it seems that the CH refugees do not want to leave Arunachal under any circumstances. Under such an atmosphere, the slightest misstep may derail the movement and snowball into a humanitarian crisis.

Attempts had also been made during Gegong Apang’s chief ministership to deport the CH refugees from Arunachal; however, the biggest technical glitch was where to deport them. It is said that the preceding government made an abortive attempt to relocate the CH refugees without taking the Centre and the neighbouring states into confidence.

Seemingly, now the state government has built the momentum by convincing the Centre to relocate the CH refugees in an honourable way with proper civic facilities. However, the decades-long unanswered question still stands: Which state would bear Arunachal’s burden?