Meghalaya, a relatively peaceful state, has been trying to calm sectarian passions that have reared their head in the past two days and underscored the perils of the politics of expediency followed by the Centre for dousing potential flashpoints linked to the Citizenship Amendment Act.
In clashes linked to the CAA, two people have been killed since Friday and at least 10 have suffered injuries from stabbings. At least one person was stabbed with a broken bottle on Sunday.
A death was reported on Sunday but there was no confirmation that it was linked to Friday’s clashes.
The mobile Internet shutdown was extended for another 48 hours from 10pm on Sunday. The ban was promulgated on Friday night.
At the root of the strife is a demand among the indigenous people of Meghalaya for an Inner Line Permit (ILP) system, which makes it mandatory for all visitors, including Indian citizens from other states, to take a permit to enter the state.
Such a demand had gained momentum after the passage of the CAA, which fast-tracks citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three Islamic countries bordering India, because the indigenous people feel the ILP will prevent the influx of migrants.
When voices of protests began to mushroom in the Northeast as soon as the citizenship bill was passed, the Centre hurriedly gave the nod to bring BJP-ruled Manipur under the permit system. (This went against the Narendra Modi government’s stated logic of removing Kashmir’s special status on the ground that all Indians should have equal access and rights across the country.) Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram were already under the ILP system.
However, the Modi government did not treat Meghalaya, where the BJP is a partner in power, with equal urgency.
Although the Meghalaya Assembly passed a resolution seeking the ILP and the Raj Bhavan in picturesque Shillong is occupied by Sangh poster boy Tathagata Roy, the Union home ministry is not known to have acted on it till now. The ILP can be implemented only after the Centre grants permission.
The Centre probably thought there was no urgency as 97 per cent of Meghalaya is under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which makes autonomous councils the decisive authority to protect land, tradition and the customs of the indigenous people. Areas under the Sixth Schedule are exempt from the CAA but no part of Meghalaya is covered by the ILP.
The indigenous people insist that the ILP — without which no one, not even Indian citizens from other states, can enter a state where the permit system is in force — is a more watertight mechanism to guard against potential influx.
The signs of trouble had emerged in Meghalaya in February when a group had taken upon itself the task of screening outsiders by setting up “check posts”.
On Friday, a clash broke out after an anti-CAA meeting organised by the Khasi Students’ Union and the Federation of Khasi-Jaintia and Garo People. Conflicting versions shroud the incident — one section claimed non-tribal people assaulted the anti-CAA protesters while another group claimed it was the protesters who had launched the attack.
One person was killed. Eight people have been arrested. The situation was grave enough for governor Roy, who had on Thursday mooted the “Tiananmen” lesson for quelling the riots in northeast Delhi, to respond with remarkable restraint on Friday.
“I appeal to all citizens in Meghalaya, tribal or non-tribal: keep calm. Don’t spread rumours and don’t listen to rumours. The Chief Minister has spoken to me. He assured me he is taking all necessary steps. We are agreed that the prime requirement now is to maintain Law and Order,” Roy tweeted on February 28. Conrad Sangma, son of former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma, is the chief minister of Meghalaya.
On Saturday, another person was killed in an incident in the state’s largest market. Stray incidents were reported on Saturday and Sunday.
Ichamati and Majai, where the clashes took place, fall under Shella Assembly constituency in Sohra civil sub-division, and are located close to the international border with Bangladesh. The areas have a mixed population.