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Kiren Rijiju's Promise to Relocate Chakmas, Hajongs to Assam Creates Uproar Amidst CAA Politics

author The Wire Staff
Apr 24, 2024
With Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma denying that any such talks are on, questions rise over the Modi government minister's claim.

New Delhi: A fresh uproar over the inclusion of Assam in the Citizenship Amendment Act has erupted amidst the polls with Union minister Kiren Rijiju, stating to reporters in Itanagar that more than 67,000 people from the Chakma and Hajong communities residing in his home state of Arunachal Pradesh would be relocated to Assam with the help of the Act.

“They are staying here as guests. They are not entitled to get a permanent resident certificate of citizenship here,” Rijiju said at a press meet on April 22 in the presence of state BJP leaders Bamang Felix and Techi Kacho. Felix is the home minister of Arunachal Pradesh.

Rijiju also made some startling comments on how far the government has progressed.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

“We have been working silently on the issue and Assam government has been urged to identify an appropriate location for their relocation.” The minister in the Narendra Modi government, who is also contesting from the Arunachal Pradesh West parliamentary constituency (voting in the constituency took place on April 21), called the CAA “a blessing” to Arunachal Pradesh.

He said, “We also initiated talks with Union home minister Amit Shah” on the matter and that the process to identify land for the relocation project has started.

As per the amended CAA, six communities including Buddhists and Hindus from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are eligible for Indian citizenship. While Arunachal Pradesh has been kept out of the CAA, the Act is applicable in Assam except the Sixth Schedule areas.

Since the Chakmas and Hajongs residing in Arunachal Pradesh had settled there prior to the formation of Bangladesh, it is not clear as to how the Modi government would relocate them to Assam under the CAA.

A storm in Assam

Still, Rijiju’s April 21 press statement mentioned Shah and the Assam government being aware of the matter. This kicked up a storm in the state with opposition parties seeking a response from the chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. The Modi government’s inclusion of Assam within the ambit of the CAA by violating the Assam Accord of 1985 is an issue in these general elections.

Top leaders of both the regional parties born of the anti-CAA movement in Assam – the Raijor Dal and the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) – came down heavily on chief minister Sarma for his apparent engagement with the Union and Arunachal Pradesh governments to settle Chakma and the Hajong refugees in the state. “Sarma should clarify whether he has received any such instructions from the government of India or Amit Shah. And if Rijiju is lying, Sarma should force him to apologise publicly,” Raijor Dal leader and legislator Akhil Gogoi told reporters on April 22.

Stating that such a move would be met with stiff resistance, AJP general secretary Jagdish Bhuyan accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “orchestrating a conspiracy to undermine the interests of Assam’s indigenous communities.”

AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi, who has contested the Lok Sabha elections from Dibrugarh LS seat against Union minister Sarbananda Sonowal on the anti-CAA plank, told reporters, “Rijiju’s statement on camera proves that the discussion between a union minister and the chief minister of Assam has taken place.”

Assam state Congress president Bhupen Borah said Rijiju’s statements “have clearly exposed the conspiracy being hatched against Assam to which the chief minister is privy”.

State secretary of CPI (M), Suprakash Talukdar struck a similar chord. “What will be Assam’s situation if such a thing happens? Assam BJP president Bhabesh Kalita had stated that at least 20 lakh people will apply for citizenship in Assam under the CAA. And now, Rijiju has said that they (Arunachal Pradesh) have already spoken with the Union home minister and with the Assam chief minister so that the Chakma and Hajong refugees (from erstwhile East Pakistan) could be settled in Assam…such a dangerous thing has now been disclosed in public,” he said.

CM denies, BJP leader doesn’t 

With the political heat on the sensitive issue mounting and with the second phase of voting in Assam slated for this April 26, chief minister Sarma reacted to the situation by denying it. “Where is the land to relocate them to Assam? Neither anyone from the Chakma or Hajong refugees nor Rijiju had any discussion with me,” he told reporters.

Sarma said, “I will speak to Rijiju once the elections are over.”

However, former general secretary of All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU), Tobom Dai, who has recently joined the BJP, has corroborated Rijiju’s statement, asking the Chakma and Hajongs residing in the state to “accept the reality”.

A repeat offender

Significantly, this is not the first time that the senior minister in the Modi government has made a statement that vouches for ousting the Chakmas and Hajongs from the state. In 2021, addressing BJP’s Jan Ashirwad Yatra in Arunachal Pradesh, he had said that “all foreigners” residing in his state would have to leave it.

As per a media statement issued by the Chakma Rights and Development Organisation (CRDO) on August 23, 2021, Rijiju, during his three-day visit to the state to hold his party’s yatra, had “warned the Chakma and Hajong people of Arunachal Pradesh to harbour no confusion whatsoever about the fact that they will not be allowed to subsist on or live in Arunachal Pradesh”.

The Union minister’s speeches had led the Chakma Development Foundation of India (CDFI) to write to Modi, Shah and the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, expressing the community’s anguish about it.

This time too, CDFI has condemned Rijiju’s April 22 statement. CDFI leader Suhas Chakma said that if anyone tries to forcibly relocate the Chakmas and Hajongs from Arunachal Pradesh, they would face contempt proceedings for violating the 1996 Supreme Court judgement in the National Human Rights Commission vs State of Arunachal Pradesh case. The court had then asked the state government to expedite their citizenship. However, not much has moved on that front.

In 2022, the NHRC had asked the BJP government in Arunachal for an ‘action taken’ report on processing their citizenship applications.

Suhas Chakma has claimed that most Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh are citizens of the country and therefore, “no government has the authority or power to relocate a citizen from one place to another place against their will or separate the families simply because the state has not processed the citizenship applications.”

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