Where Other PMs Have Failed, Will PM Modi Solve The Chakma Issue?

Let me start with a topic which easily relates to every one of you. From the day you got the first high school lesson on civics and could make sense of the word ‘politics’, you have only seen one hung parliament after another in our country. A string of perfect textbook examples, isn’t it so?

From 1989 to 2014, it’s amazing how many hung parliaments we have lived through – listening to ‘coalition heads’ spraying saucy speeches from the rampart of the Red Fort. Do we ever imagine how many generations this vast nation must have produced during the prolonged period of hung parliaments?

I want to profusely thank Narendra Modi for breaking the political jinx. And, it would be worth your time to consider my life as an example of the repercussions of hung parliaments in a democratic nation:

1989: Walking with a slate to the local primary school for the first time in my life, under VP Singh’s government.

1990: Beaming with pride on being promoted to the next class under Chandra Sekhar.

1991: Learning to pedal a bicycle under PV Narasimha Rao.

1996-1997: Passed through my early- and mid-teens, enrolled for Bharat Scouts and completed middle-school under AB Vajpayee, HD Deve Gowda, and IK Gujral.

1998: Commanding the boys’ marching contingent at the Kolkata Republic Day Parade under AB Vajpayee again.

1999: Appearing for the CBSE higher secondary exam under AB Vajpayee, once again.

2006-2014: Pursued a college degree, took up jobs, got married and attained fatherhood under Manmohan Singh.

Today, I have a nice political opinion of myself and of those million other people born in the period between 1989 and 2014. We are the generation of ‘the hung parliaments’. What a stupendous experience I have had! And I hope that all of you have had such stupendous experiences, as well!

For the record, I have made my peace with the days of ‘minority governments’, ‘hung parliaments’, ‘rickety coalition governments’, which now seem to be a thing of the past. Now, I feel as though I have been given a new lease of life under the present Prime Minister (PM), who was voted to power with an absolute majority in 2014. Furthermore, I was told that he was a person who likes to work (rather, overwork), just like Jawaharlal Nehru!

Notwithstanding my political affiliation, I am a contended Indian who mostly agrees with the policies of our PM. To be more accurate, you can say that I am a contended Indian for the most part, who agrees with the PM and most of his policies – but with a little dose of skepticism. This skepticism oscillates between a ‘little worry’ to ‘a tight knot at the pit of the stomach’.

I am a 35-year-old son of an East Pakistani migrant who had migrated to India in more than 50 years ago. It must be my background which is fueling my skepticism. Can this be true?

The current PM, unlike his predecessors over the last two decades, has touched the lives of his countrymen without rolling out a vulgar number of ‘common-man schemes’ – something that had become a kind of tradition in the world’s largest democracy. Modi should get full credit for certain exceptional economics reforms which you and I never ever thought could happen in this country. In my opinion, this is particularly true, for instance, in the case of the withdrawal old notes from our pockets and replacing them with totally-new denominations with a zing of extra color. Also, we should not discount the other subtle but exciting change in the country: the national anthem being played in cinema halls.

On the country’s domestic front, the PM has asked for one of the boldest reforms by ordering special exemption of and regularising the entry and stay of millions of migrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan, belonging to various communities like Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists. In the beginning, it seemed he was walking into a very risky zone by treading on the sticky refugee issue. Surprisingly, no uproar was witnessed on the well of the Parliament against this policy. Neither were there adverse reports of the masses protesting on the streets outside the Parliament with anti-Modi slogans and black flags.

In my opinion, this probably shows that the citizens of the India have had a change of heart. With empathy and an evolved view, it would seem that they have come a long way since the days of the ’80s and the ’90s.

In the days ahead, the regularisation of the entry of millions of undocumented immigrants will not be an easy task by any means at the governmental level. But, for now, let us bask in our PM’s success. By emerging unscathed from a very risky ‘refugee zone’, we are made to believe that Modi has the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove (that is, a tough mind, and a compassionate heart) – qualities of a truly world-class leader, as prescribed by the Nobel Laureate, Martin Luther King Jr.

From the perspective of the people of the north-east, the passage of a migrant-friendly policy will have a direct bearing on the people of this region. On the one hand, many will despise it especially the so-called ‘indigenous group’. On the other hand, it will cause glee and lend a sense of permanent security for the hundreds and thousands of people from migrant backgrounds. This issue is perhaps best-understood by the media and the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

There is this other fact about the north-east which many political and business leaders of India do acknowledge. Any problem or issue (whether social, political, or economic) in north-east India brews intensely for a long time before eliciting a response from New Delhi.

The citizenship issue involving the Buddhist Chakmas is one such rude example. Ironically, this particular refugee/citizenship issue takes its roots in Nehru’s era, more than 50 years ago. Unfortunately, both the central and the state government have kept the issue in doldrums. This, despite a series of verdicts previously passed by the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court since 1996.

As a matter of fact, the Chakma community is the largest Buddhist ethnic group in the hills. There can’t be a greater mockery than this community being denied the universal right to live with dignity on the very soil which is revered as the cradle of Buddhism.

India’s PM is also the PM of the north-east. So, I will hope that Modi treats the concerns of the north-east to be New Delhi’s concerns as well. Known for his ‘go-for-the-kill’ style of functioning, I am waiting anxiously to see if our PM shall take the issue of the Buddhist Chakmas on his work tray.

History seems to have taught us a lesson sober-minded people can rarely find a breakthrough for problems that are obstinate in nature. Where the sober-minded PMs of the past have failed, will the Modi take the obstinate issue of the Chakmas’ citizenship by its horns? I believe that he can – if he so wishes.

Many of his critics from the Opposition went to the critical extent of labelling him a ‘dictator’. Others may not like it – but today, I see a dash of hope in this ‘Parliamentary dictator’. On behalf of the nearly 50,000-strong Buddhist Chakma community now living in Arunachal Pradesh, I appeal to him to give us the justice that has been denied to us so far – by serial, sober parliamentarians and PMs alike.

The Supreme Court’s insistence on granting citizenship to the Chakmas means that Modi doesn’t have the luxury of time in dealing with this ‘mother-of-a-refugee-issue’.


Featured image source: Subrata Biswas/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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