May 15, 2018 @ 2:00 am

15 MAY 2018

Alien versus alien

Disquiet in Assam should convince the Centre to reconsider the new Citizenship Bill

In Assam, where illegal migration, in fact as well as in exaggeration, has defined the political landscape since the 1980s, public hearings and meetings held by a Joint Parliamentary Committee over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, have inevitably taken place in a charged atmosphere. Parties and civil society groups have argued that the Bill provides legitimacy to Hindus who have migrated from Bangladesh post-1971. It precludes individuals from six religious minorities from three “Muslim-dominant countries” (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan) from being defined as “illegal immigrants” under the Foreigners Act, 1946. The intent behind this Bill, promised by the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 general election, is to clear a path to citizenship for minorities persecuted in the three countries. The National Register of Citizens, on the other hand, does not distinguish migrants on the basis of religion and regards all post-March 24, 1971 migrants, irrespective of their religion, as illegal aliens who need to be deported. Clearly, the Bill is seen by detractors to be breaking the general consensus on the NRC forged after years of political differences and legal challenges to the Assam Accord, of which the ongoing exercise to update the register is an outcome. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has responded saying his government will continue to protect the rights of the citizens, and hinted that the JPC should take the detractors’ views on board.

The Bill is indeed discriminatory and problematic in limiting accelerated citizenship to non-Muslims. As the case of the Rohingya highlights, Muslims in neighbouring countries who are fleeing persecution are being denied refuge in India currently. Besides, the detractors, although some of their objections stem from a native chauvinism, have a point. The Bill conflates the definition of migrants, people who shift voluntarily, with that of refugees, who are forced to do so under duress giving them a claim to humanitarian protection. The NRC puts the onus on migrants to prove their status of residence prior to 1971 based on a series of documents that would lead to registration as a citizen. The Bill seeks to bring in considerations of religious identity. There are unresolved issues with the NRC process as well. There is the question of modalities of deportation, which would involve negotiations with Bangladesh. As of now Assam has six detention centres for illegal migrants. If the NRC process identifies more illegal aliens for deportation, they would have to be detained in such centres and there is no knowing how long they would have to stay there. Besides, the implementation of the Bill will mean non-Muslims will not be subject to these steps, thereby clearly discriminating against Muslims identified as illegal aliens. The Centre needs to apply much more thought before pushing the Bill, for its contradictions in Assam and for its larger religious assumptions.

Singapore sling

Donald Trump’s Iran decision will loomover his meeting with Kim Jong-un

President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12 cannot be viewed in isolation from the unilateral American decision to withdraw from the nuclear pact with Iran. While the decision could undermine confidence in his word, he is also visibly trying hard to amp up pre-summit goodwill. He has, for instance, effusively greeted the North Korean decision announced over the weekend to destroy its nuclear testing zone — though sceptics argue that the site is unusable anyway and that it is premature to hail the North’s decision. Any which way, the meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders will be historic, something that would have been unimaginable even a few months ago. Tensions between the two countries had risen to an all-time high over the winter, and Pyongyang’s series of nuclear and intercontinental missile tests were met with an increasingly stringent international sanctions regime and extremely stern diplomacy. The recent thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Washington has been aided by attempts by both North and South Korea to restore normalcy on the divided peninsula, beginning with cordiality during the Winter Olympics and then a meeting between the two Korean leaders. Seoul and Washington too had suspended their annual military exercises, to reassure North Korea of their intentions. For its part, the North has announced the release of three American prisoners accused of “hostile activities”. It has also ceased further nuclear and missile tests. Whether Mr. Kim will agree to a freeze on the North’s nuclear programme is, however, still in the realm of speculation.

Mr. Trump has seized the opportunity afforded by the summit, an unprecedented feat for any U.S. leader, to project himself as the archetypal peacemaker. But the summit cannot escape a fundamental and glaring contradiction. From the standpoint of global nuclear non-proliferation, it is hard to reconcile Washington’s desire to broker peace with Pyongyang with its abrogation of the multilateral pact with Tehran. Neither the threat nor the actual use of force has been enough to significantly advance global nuclear non-proliferation objectives. Recognition of these inherent limitations led to the adoption last year, by over 120 nations, of the UN treaty to prohibit and eventually abolish nuclear arms. Mr. Trump could well view the summit as a chance of a lifetime to turn the tables on a festering issue and earn his legacy. But the deal-maker in him may find the diplomatic deftness required of the task difficult to marshal, given the hawkish defence and foreign policy team around him. Having alienated his European allies over the Iran nuclear deal, world trade and climate change, Mr. Trump needs positive atmospherics in Singapore.

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