ILP in Assam: More a Futility Than a Utility

Wednesday, 20 January 2021



ILP in Assam: More a Futility Than a Utility

Swapnil Bharali | February 19, 2020 15:49 hrs

My two experiences of procuring an Inner Line Permit (ILP) were upon visiting Arunachal Pradesh. Not that it was a difficult experience unlike say a tough interview that you need to face while trying to get a US visa, but it surely served as a deterrent to any casual or touristy visit that I might have wanted to undertake on any other occasion. Yes, the hassle of securing permission from authorities to go somewhere is indeed a put-off to travel plans.

Assam has been forever free of such a requirement for its visitors. And so now, what is being mulled by the central government is not a good thing to happen. A committee set up by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to find ways and means to implement the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord – a clause that is meant to protect the interests and rights of the indigenous Assamese population – has apparently recommended introduction of the ILP to control the influx of outsiders. Now this begs the question as to who are these “outsiders” and why is the government trying to bring their influx under control with an instrument like the ILP? Clearly, should the ILP be put into practice, Indians from outside the state would also need the same to visit Assam just as I had to while visiting Arunachal Pradesh. 

What effectively this would mean is total disruption of the business machinery and investment channels for a state that is already beleaguered by an assortment of other problems – be it demographic or geographic. Situated as it is in a Zone V seismic location that deters heavy industries from being set up within its fragile ecology, thus rendering the state industry-deficient, the only possible growth track for Assam is by trade within India and beyond towards the east. Also, blessed as the state is with its natural beauty and rich wilderness, tourism is the other industry that can foster a semblance of progress. This is another reason that the Modi government had come up with the Look East Policy whereby the entire northeast was supposed to be a bridge connecting India to the rest of Southeast Asia by surface. Essentially, what the ILP will do is to defeat the very purpose of the Look East Policy and that would be a rather laughable remedial measure from this government – a self-goal basically.

But why exactly is the ILP under the consideration of the Home Ministry? The restiveness stemming in the state in the aftermath of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is something that the central government had not bargained for it seems. And this restiveness is perhaps justified given that Assamese sentiments over the historic Assam Accord have been badly hurt. The state has done more than its bit to be accommodative of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and today harbours fears of losing its land, identity and resources to such foreigners. And these are foreigners who had entered the country illegally. Putting an ILP in place now would hardly be instrumental in flushing out these people who have already settled down in the state and is certainly no tool to assuage this hurt. The CAA now seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, who had entered the state up to the date of 31st December, 2014. And the number here could be anywhere beyond 5 lakhs!

Well, suggesting the ILP is a strange logic and is certainly no solution at all in controlling the influx of these “outsiders” unless the government has reasonable intelligence inputs that suggest that it can expect more such illegal migrants in the future. While on the one hand, with the scrapping of Article 370, Jammu & Kashmir has been fully integrated into India, exactly the opposite is happening with the northeastern states with a number of new ILP zones being put in place in the name of identity politics. This is basically throwing the “one nation” theory - nay logic - out of the window and creating parochial ghettos all over the northeast and creating such barriers that would deter Indian and international business houses from setting up shop. We need better administration of the state and defter handling of our resources that would generate employment for our youths. Creating barriers with instruments like the ILP is not the way forward.

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