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In northeast India, the politics of citizenship flares anew

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The rice farmer doesn’t know how it happened. Abdul Mannan just knows a mistake was made somewhere. But what can you say when the authorities suddenly insists one of your five children isn’t an Indian? What do you do when your wife and daughter-in-law are suddenly viewed as illegal immigrants?

"We are genuine Indians. We are not foreigners," said Mannan, 50, adding his family has lived in India’s northeastern Assam state since the 1930s. "I can’t understand where the mistake is."

Neither can nearly 4 million other people who insist they are Indian but who now must prove their nationality as the politics of citizenship — overlaid with questions of religion, ethnicity and illegal immigration — swirls in a state where such questions have a long and bloody past.

Today, nativist anger churns through the hills and plains of Assam state, just across the border from Bangladesh, with many here believing the state is overrun with illegal migrants.

"India is for Indians. Assam is for Indians," said Sammujjal Bhattachariya, a top official with the All Assam Students Union, which has been in the forefront of pushing for the citizenship survey. "Assam is not for illegal Bangladeshis."

"We need a permanent solution," he added.

On Friday, some of the 3.9 million residents left off Assam’s draft list of citizens began picking up forms to file their appeals, wading into a byzantine legal and bureaucratic process that many fear could lead to detention, expulsion or years in limbo.

Mannan, his two daughters and two of his sons were all listed on the citizenship list released in July. But his wife, a 17-year-old son and his daughter-in-law were nowhere to be seen. No explanation was given.

"We are worried that the names are not there," said Mannan, who lives with his family in a bamboo-walled hut, supporting them on about $150 a month in farming income. "How will we live? What will we do? How will we stay in Assam?"

For decades, fears of widespread movement across the porous border with Bangladesh have triggered tensions between the state’s majority ethnic group, Assamese-speaking Hindus, and its Bengali-speaking Muslims.

In the 1980s that erupted into violence, with hundreds of people killed in Assam amid waves of anti-migrant attacks. New Delhi eventually ruled that anyone who could prove their family had lived in India before Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, which drove millions of Bangladeshis to flee across the border, would be considered an Indian citizen.

But proving that can be deeply complicated in a region where basic paperwork — birth certificates, marriage certificates, leases — has only recently become commonplace in many rural villages.

State officials insist they have done everything possible to make the procedure fair.

"It’s been an extremely exhaustive process," said Prateek Hajela, the coordinator of the citizenship project that involves 52,000 officials, visits to 6.8 million families and countless hearings to examine the details of family trees.

But the politics of religion and ethnicity have been on the rise in India since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was swept to power in national elections. The party quickly pushed to update the citizenship registry in Assam, where politicians have eagerly grabbed hold of the issue.

"First our target is to segregate the foreigners. What steps we will take against them will come next," Assam’s top elected official, Sarbananda Sonowal, told the Times of India in an interview early this year. "They will have only one right — human rights as guaranteed by the U.N. that include food, shelter and clothing."

"For almost 40 years our people have been living in a state of confusion and uncertainty," he told the newspaper.

Today, hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslims with suspect nationality are already living in a half-dozen detention camps in Assam.

Assam has a population of roughly 33 million, with a little over one-third of them Muslims.

"The concern over illegal migration is indeed genuine," said Akhil Ranjan Dutta, a political analyst and professor at Gauhati University in Assam. "But unfortunately, political parties have always tried to score brownie points on the issue purely to gain votes."

Few deny there has been widespread illegal migration into Assam, often by poor Bangladeshis in search of work as farm laborers. The state’s demographics have shifted dramatically in recent decades, with the percentage of Bengali-speakers jumping from 22 percent in 1991 to 29 percent in 2011, and the percentage of Assamese-speakers declining. Many analysts, however, say those numbers in part reflect the higher birth rates among Muslims. Estimates on the number of illegal immigrants vary wildly, from a few hundred thousand to many millions.

While Muslims appear to dominate the 3.9 million people left off the citizenship rolls, they aren’t the only people now facing a bureaucratic gauntlet.

"I don’t know about politics. I am a poor man. I work all day, eat, and sleep at night. I don’t go anywhere else," said Khitish Namo Das, 50, a rail-thin Hindu farmer who insists he was born in India and whose family of eight — except for one daughter-in-law — are now considered illegal.

"When the names did not appear on the list it made me worry," he said, then reassured himself: "I have the documents so I don’t think I need to worry too much."

It’s not clear what will happen to people who, once their appeals are used up, are still not listed as citizens. Detention is a strong possibility for some, but impoverished Bangladesh insists it will not accept mass expulsions back into its territory. Activists worry many could be left in limbo for years, perhaps decades, stateless wanderers like Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Even some of those who support the citizenship survey say the migrants are a significant part of the economy.

"Those immigrants play a very important role in supplying your labor economy. So if those people are given work permits, minus political rights, they could be very valuable in Assam," said Nani Gopal Mahanta, an Assam-based political analyst.

But he defends the survey: "It’s a question of sovereignty, it’s a question of the security of this country."

Officials insist that the process will be open and trustworthy.

"It’s going to be a fair procedure," Hajela, the project coordinator, said last week. "We will ensure that no genuine citizen gets left out, and at the point in time, ensuring that the ineligibles don’t find their names there."

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Identity politics are – by definition – racist

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To mark last weekend’s one-year anniversary of the violent right-wing demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, a meagre two dozen card-carrying white supremacists showed up in the town, vs thousands of anti-racism protesters — proportions that may reflect the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, ever since the 2017 rally, the American left has thrown around the pejorative ‘white supremacist’ with such abandon that you’d think the country was jagged with peaked white hats from sea to shining sea.

By fits and starts, the past 50 years have seen equality of opportunity for minorities in the States improve dramatically. Yet racial rhetoric, and the overall touch-and-feel of race relations on the ground, is deteriorating.

An astonishing 55 per cent of Americans now consider being white important to their identity. I don’t count myself among them. All of greater Europe and its vast diaspora is too diffuse an association to do anything for me. I may be feebly interested in my German heritage, but should DNA analysis prove that my forebears were actually Bangladeshi, if anything I’d throw a party. (‘Yay! I’m not white! Nothing’s my fault!’) I don’t much care about being female or American, either. These are all attributes foisted upon me at birth that I did not choose.

Having little attachment to your race is a luxury, of course. Historically, African-Americans have had to consider their race important, because it was too important, in the worst way, to others. Yet luxuries aren’t to be wasted, so I plan on continuing to be so-what about my skin colour. Progress, to me, involves us all becoming so-what about race — but that’s not the direction we’re headed.

White Americans may be embracing a race long associated with blandness and bad bread in part because they’re within shouting distance of becoming a minority in what they had been regarding as their country. Donald Trump is an aggravating factor, but American retreat to racial foxholes well predates his watch. For I also blame identity politics — which have whipped up racial antagonism, encouraged nakedly anti-white bombast and ushered in a glaring double standard that’s unsustainable. You cannot have black identity politics, and Latino identity politics, without conjuring the pastel version. Yet only ‘white identitarians’ are demonised as driven by hatred. Whites are the sole race the mainstream western media forbids to forge a sense of unity or to defend their own interest. The only identity whites are allowed is self-disgust. Whites who stray from ceaseless self-crit are moral degenerates.

Last week on the PBS NewsHour, a moderator, the New York Times columnist David Brooks and the Washington Post deputy editor Ruth Marcus discussed a 2016 poll by the Institute for Family Studies. It asked some 3,000 non-Hispanic whites, roughly: 1) Do they have a strong sense of white identity? 2) Do they have a strong sense of white solidarity? 3) Do they think whites face discrimination? (After 50 years of affirmative action and the latest consuming obsession with ‘diversity’ in hiring, you wouldn’t have to be demented to suppose that white Americans might face some discrimination. Indeed, one 2012 poll had more than half of white Americans agreeing that whites have replaced blacks as the ‘primary victims of discrimination’, a bridge-too-far assertion I find ludicrous.)

Six per cent of the sample answered strongly in the affirmative to all three questions. The whole NewsHour panel blithely assumed that this 6 per cent supported last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. For Brooks, the 6 per cent amounted to ‘white identity verging into racism’. Though the poll (whose results I’ve read) never asked respondents if they considered their race superior, the PBS moderator presumed that the awful 6 per cent ‘identified with white supremacy’. Marcus chimed in: ‘It’s not the 6 per cent I worry about, but people who do not think of themselves as racists, do not subscribe to extreme views, who think of themselves as decent people.’

By inference, the ‘6 per cent’ think of themselves as racists, subscribe to extreme views,and aren’t decent. But let’s look at those questions. Ask African-Americans if they’ve a strong sense of black identity, black solidarity and black victimisation, and the majority would say yes to all three. Yet NewsHour commentators would never decry a sense of black identity as necessarily ‘verging into racism’, or presume such respondents supported ‘black supremacy’ and held ‘extreme views’.

The American left urges every race to organise, pull together, demand their rights if not special treatment, recognise their common experience, celebrate their people’s separate history and separate accomplishments — except one. If white people do the same thing, they’re bigoted and beyond the pale. That mixed-message platform isn’t politically saleable in the long term, isn’t actually fair and is already backfiring big-time.

To be clear, I’m not arguing for white identity politics, but against identity politics of any brand. The movement insists that what we are is more important than who we are; that our lives derive their meaning from our membership of groups; that what happens to us isn’t the product of our own decisions but of unequal power dynamics that are bigger than we are. Ergo, your complexion eclipses everything else about you. Identity politics are overtly and explicitly racist. In fact, by cavalierly characterising anyone who embraces a white identity as a ‘supremacist’, that NewsHour discussion was racist as could be.

Keep playing this game, get more white folks playing it, too. Some white liberals will continue to compete over who can seem more ashamed, in an effort to earn themselves out of their skin colour (sorry, guys—doesn’t work, and anything nasty you say about white people still applies to you). But all the other pale faces won’t necessarily tolerate being told that Caucasians alone cannot be regarded as a cohesive people, cannot experience solidarity, cannot feel communal pride, cannot fight back when slandered or stereotyped, cannot advocate for their interest and cannot ever, ever feel sorry for themselves. The sleeping giant of white identity politics? Thanks to misguided hard-left activism, it’s woke.

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Analysis: Ouimet's ouster from Liberals reveals ugly side of politics

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Despite assurances by Premier Couillard he would be allowed to run again, the Liberals will replace François Ouimet with Enrico Ciccone.


"I will not hide the fact that the acts taken against me in the last days have been hurtful," said Ouimet, pictured in 2013, at an emotional news conference.


Robert Amyot / Montreal Gazette

QUEBEC — It was, as François Ouimet puts it, the day the ugly side of politics reared its head.

There he was, a man elected to office way back in 1994, a veteran who had slogged through the bleak years on the opposition benches, quietly going about the thankless task of being the backbencher for the riding of Marquette for almost 25 years.

He was never a cabinet minister and was not a big speaker, but despite the perilous nature of politics, Ouimet’s record was unblemished to the point he was named deputy Speaker of the House.

Nobody could question his loyalty to his party or devotion to public service. Around the legislature, Ouimet was considered a perfect gentleman well on his way to obtaining a new term in office.

This time, however, he would attain the coveted honorary title of the dean of the legislature.

The election campaign photos were taken, the date for his nomination meeting set for Wednesday of this week. Heck, the crusts had been cut off the sandwiches and the coffee was brewing in the church basement.

Then came the fateful phone call from the big Liberal party war room announcing the nomination meeting was cancelled. Despite the personal assurance he would be allowed to run again from the premier at a meeting in May, Ouimet was told to clean out his locker.

The party brass argued it was time for renewal. Suddenly, at 58, Ouimet was too old.

The Liberals need Marquette for a rising Liberal star, who turns out to be former hockey player Enrico Ciccone, a man only 10 years younger than Ouimet and with zero political experience.

Ciccone does not live in the riding that includes the cities of Dorval and Île Dorval and the borough of Lachine. With Ouimet still licking his wounds, the party will announce Ciccone’s candidacy at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Emotional, often snap political departures are legion in these halls, but even his Liberal colleagues were shocked Wednesday to see such a genuinely nice guy as Ouimet put through the ringer.

“I dare say I hope what I read in the paper is not the way things happened,” allowed Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée on her way into a cabinet meeting.

“There’s a sad underbelly in politics,” added Robert Poëti, the minister for integrity in public procurement. “It’s a cruel business.”

By midday Wednesday, the time Ouimet called in the media to announce he had no choice but to leave politics, emotions had peaked.

“I think I deserved better,” Ouimet said, brushing aside tears, his voice choking. “You know, you just feel hurt.

“Politics can be very noble. There are great moments where parties come together; people are looking for the greater good of the greatest number of people. And at times there is this ugly side of politics that rears its ugly little head.

“I will not hide the fact that the acts taken against me in the last days have been hurtful. The agreement (with the premier) was not respected, and that hurts.”

He didn’t mince words about Couillard, either, touching off speculation this party bungle could rebound on the Liberal brain trust in the race to the Oct. 1 vote.

“He (Couillard) looked me in the eye, shook my hand, reiterated his confidence out loud saying, ‘Don’t you worry, I won’t doublecross you, I will sign your nomination papers. You have my word.’

The two spoke briefly one last time Wednesday.

“After I hung up the phone, I realized that his (Couillard’s) promise no longer held water,” Ouimet said. “I thought (being a Liberal) was all about doing politics differently. You know, this is old backroom stuff from the ’50s and ’60s.

“A lot of constituents wrote to me this morning … and a lot of people feel there was a betrayal.”

Conspiracy theories about what really happened abounded Wednesday. Ouimet said one explanation for his ouster could be to make rival Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault look older.

With Ouimet gone, Legault inherits the title of legislature dean, a point the Liberals may add to their arsenal of campaign talking points to say the CAQ hardly incarnates renewal.

Preposterous, Couillard responded later at a separate news conference that rapidly veered into the Ouimet-Liberal train wreck.

Couillard appeared ready to take his lumps, praising Ouimet for his work. He said he had lots of respect and affection for him.

“There are moments in the life of a party leader which are extremely painful,” Couillard said. “Some decisions are very, very difficult to make because they involve people, people we know, that we work with. They are wounds you carry (as a leader) for a very long time.”

He insisted Ouimet was supposed to be the candidate as he promised in May, but the situation had evolved. The party now has more good new candidates than available ridings to park them in and needs Marquette.

Couillard said he can be trusted to keep a promise.

“My word is worth a lot,” Couillard said. “People who work beside me every day know I am a man of my word.”

pauthier@postmedia.com

twitter.com/philipauthier

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Fraser Anning told to 'say something really controversial' or be forgotten – politics live

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[unable to retrieve full-text content]

  1. Fraser Anning told to ‘say something really controversial’ or be forgotten – politics live  The Guardian
  2. ‘While all Muslims are not terrorists, certainly all terrorists these days are Muslims,’ Senator Anning said  NEWS.com.au
  3. Full coverage



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