13 OCTOBER 2018
An NRC for Tripura will risk creating new fault lines in the State
Just three months after the final draft of the National Register of Citizens for Assam was released, the Supreme Court has tagged a petition seeking a similar process for Tripura. The petition now tagged to the Assam case was heard by a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, on Monday. The petitioners, a group of activists from Tripura, sought a process to identify illegal migrants and deport them from the State. They maintained that the influx amounted to “external aggression” and that they have turned the tribal people into a minority in their own native land.Much of the migration into Tripura occurred before the creation of Bangladesh. The petition takes recourse to the 1993 tripartite accord signed by the Government of India with the All Tripura Tribal Force that asked for the repatriation of all Bangladeshi nationals who had come to Tripura after March 25, 1971 and are not in possession of valid documents authorising their presence in the State. In fact, the petitioners go even further than the terms of the accord to demand that the cut-off date for the recognition of migrants should be July 1949, based on Article 6 of the Constitution. These demands must be contextualised in the light of the developments in Tripura over the last four decades. As early as in 1979, after years of struggle, the tribal people of the State had gained special autonomy provisions, the institution of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council and recognition of their spoken language, among other assurances. Since then, the empowerment of the council and the protection of tribal rights have steadily eroded the significant tribal versus non-tribal differences that once existed in the State.
Over the last three decades, multiple insurgent groups have ended violent struggles – either quelled by force of law or as a result of conceding vital demands for preserving the gains made by earlier tribal struggles. The judicial-bureaucratic process of hearing a petition to seek the deportation of long-settled migrants is fraught with problems, not dissimilar to those already being faced in Assam. The question of what awaits the four million people whose names did not figure in the final NRC draft, and have been given a second chance to prove their antecedents, still hangs in the balance. Notwithstanding the fact that the NRC process in Assam has an overall popular legitimacy across most political parties, there is no answer to how the deportation process could (or should) proceed. Embarking on any such bureaucratic exercise without considering its deep humanitarian impact will only create new fault lines – especially in a State like Tripura where there is no such unanimity of views on the NRC process. It will undo years of work to bring about a reconciliation between Bengali-speaking and tribal people. The Supreme Court should be cognisant of this while hearing the petition.
The country’s political economy looks all set for a rightward shift
The far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro could not have got closer to Brazil’s presidency in a more convincing manner in the first round of elections, that took place on Sunday. The former army captain who belongs to the Social Liberal Party notched up 46% of the vote, only a few percentage points short of crossing the 50% needed for an outright victory, in a multi-cornered contest. In a graphic illustration of the sharp polarisation in Latin America’s largest country, he left his nearest rival, Fernando Haddad, of the Workers’ Party (PT), who garnered 29% of the vote, far behind. If that were not enough, the elections also put paid to speculation that the right-wing radical may not secure adequate representation in the new legislature.Mr. Bolsonaro’s party has won enough seats in Congress to allow him greater latitude to influence the course of the next government, should he win the run-off on October 28, as is expected. Mr. Haddad has a tough fight on his hands. A lawyer and an economist, he espouses more moderate economic positions than either Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Dilma Rousseff, former Presidents and the architects of generous welfare programmes. But an electorate that has seen the downfall of several mainstream politicians since the Operation Car-Wash investigations into political patronage and sleaze, views Mr. Haddad as representing a corrupt and compromised establishment. Moreover, the PT was at best reluctant to throw its weight behind him; it waited until the courts rejected Mr. Lula’s candidacy, weeks before the polls.
Mr. Bolsonaro, despite his long experience as a congressman from Rio de Janeiro, has gained from the perception of being a political outsider. Ahead of the elections, he reinvented himself as an economic liberal, promising to reform the bloated pension system that allegedly has been gamed by the more privileged. Investors prefer to give Mr. Bolsonaro the benefit of the doubt for now. His popularity has also occasioned comparisons to other populist leaders around the world. His admiration for the country’s military dictatorship during the 1960s-1980s is well-known. The presidential frontrunnerhas made no secret of his misogynistic, homophobic and racist opinions. Many of these positions may be watered down to widen Mr. Bolsonaro’s appeal before the final polls. But so far, his trigger-happy instincts have not sufficiently troubled voters, whose tolerance for venality has worn thin over these years. They may, for instance, count on him to pass legislation to ease environmental restrictions and to crack down on crime. Mr. Haddad may consider moderating his party’s stance, but will be mindful of risking the alienation of his core constituency, the poor.