The final draft of NRC has been released to identify illegal foreigners residing in Assam. With nearly 40 lakh people have been excluded from NRC list and the opposition accusing the government on both the timing and the implementation, it has snowballed
Recently the Assam government released the second and final draft of the National Register of Citizens. The National Register of Citizens has been compiled under the orders of the Supreme Court to identify illegal foreigners residing in Assam and also as a measure to curb infiltration across the border from Bangladesh.
The large scale of illegal migration from Bangladesh into Assam for the past several decades has not only changed the demographic complexion of the state, but also posed a threat to the identity of the indigenous people of Assam. The unabated influx from Bangladesh has adversely affected the social, economic and political environment in Assam. The issue of immigration had remained as a contentious issue and also led to the rankling among the people ethnic relations of Assam. As a result, the identity of “who are the original inhabitants of Assam” remained unanswered and protests and violence erupted in the state from time to time.
As the conflict escalated, the Union government agreed to have a NRC in Assam in accordance with the Assam Accord in 1985. As per the Assam Accord, all people who came to Assam prior to January 1, 1966, would be given citizenship. Those who moved in between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971, would be “detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964”. Their names would be deleted from the electoral rolls and they would remain disenfranchised for a period of 10 years. Lastly, the accord provided a resolution to the case of those who entered Indian borders after March 24, 1971. “Foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, shall continue to be detected, deleted and practical steps shall be taken to expel such foreigners,” says the accord.
But the first pilot project was started only after more than two decades in 2010. Subsequently, following the protest by the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU), the project was aborted. Then, after three years the updating exercise resumed in March 2013. In October 2014, the Supreme Court ordered that work on the NRC be completed by January 31, 2016. But, the process hit a roadblock when the Gauhati High Court rejected the residency certificates issued by gram panchayats as proof of citizenship which was approved by a state cabinet sub-committee in 2010 as one of the 11 documents as proof. Once again in August, 2017, the Supreme Court directed the authorities to ready a "partial" draft NRC by December 31, 2017, not including the names of the 4.7 million people affected by the Gauhati High Court order. The court also asked to segregate the 'original inhabitants' from among these 4.7 million applicants.
On October 10, 2017, the authorities told the court that only 1.7 million were "original inhabitants" (OI) and the registering authority were satisfied about the citizenship status of this lot. After the first publication of the draft NRC on December 31,2017, the authorities began the process of updating the second draft under the supervision of the Supreme Court to identify original residents of the state with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date.
Accordingly, the government released the second and final NRC draft in which out of the total 3, 29,91,384 people, 2,89,83,677 were identified as valid citizens of India and more than 40 lakh people were found to be invalid citizens of India. The NRC features the names, addresses and photographs of all Indian citizens, who have been residing in the north eastern state before March 25, 1971. The register can be accessed at: www.nrcassam.nic.in.
As expected, there was huge hue and cry over the exercise and the opposition parties have joined hands to raise their ante. Leading the attack is the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who called the move a deliberate attempt to throw out Bengali-speaking people and people from Bihar. Launching a stinging attack on the government, she said people were being made refugees in their own country and warned against “playing with fire”.
But, the Congress seemed to be more interested in taking credit for the NRC and claimed it was initiated by the UPA under Manmohan Singh to fulfil the commitment made in the Assam Accord of 1985. But at the same time, Congress criticised the centre for the manner in which the exercise has been undertaken.
However, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh clarified that those left out will not be branded as foreigner and no punitive action will be taken against them. The government reiterated that no one will lose his/her citizenship rights or be sent to a detention camp for foreigners merely on the basis of the draft NRC and the people left out of the register would still be able to appeal and present objections.
While the opposition and critics accuse the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for taking up the citizens’ register as a tool to promote their Hindu-first campaign with an eye on the 2019 national election, they did really miss out the fact indeed NRC was BJP’s poll promise.
As soon as the final NRC draft was released, Mamata Banerjee launched a stinging attack on the government. “People were being made refugees in their own country and warned against 'playing with fire'. Divide and rule will finish the country”, she claimed. She called the move a deliberate attempt to throw out Bengali-speaking people and people from Bihar.
Moreover, in the past too West Bengal has been affected due to migration happened in large numbers. Then in 2005, Mamata Banerjee protested vehemently and accused the ruling CPI(M) for encouraging the vote bank politics. But, now she has gone back on own stance and openly supporting the infiltrators. When infiltrators spread whose interests do they hurt? Is it not the nation and its people? Whose livelihoods they pluck away? Ultimately who stand to lose? Is it not the responsibility of every government to protect its citizens?
It is highly intriguing when Mamata Banerjee demands to show ‘humanity’ to illegal migrants? Worst, a sitting Chief Minister threatening a civil war and warning of “blood bath” in the country, is a sign of plummeting to the lowest depths of vote bank politics. It must be noted that even on the Rohingya issue, Mamata Banerjee took a similar stand. Is it not blatant appeasement politics? That too against its own citizens?
It may be recalled that the West Bengal CM had previously also described the process of updating the NRC as a “conspiracy” to evict Bengalis from the state after the first draft was released on December 31, 2017. “There were people who have Aadhar cards and passports but still their names are not in the draft list. Names of people were removed on the basis of surnames also. Is the government trying to do forceful eviction,” she asked. She also questioned the timing of the release of the final draft of the NRC, Mamata Banerjee accused the BJP of doing politics ahead of the 2019 elections. “This is just an exercise to isolate the people who can vote positively and those who can’t, she said.
For the millions of genuine Assamese Muslims, were sick and tired of us being confused with those who infiltrated the country from across the border. So, it is clear that even the sizable Muslim population of Assam wants clear official declaration of their identity. After Assam, Bengal probably has the highest concentration of “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh. So, there is a genuine concern for the state that in the worst scenario of NRC fallout Bengal may have to deal with several lakh people being crossing over in to the state. But Mamata Banerjee decried that the NRC has already polarised people in Assam and she would not allow it to happen in West Bengal
While, Mamata Banerjee accuses BJP of trying to consolidate Hindu votes in Assam and Bengal, she is openly relying on Muslim votes. Mamata Banerjee, is using the NRC as a take on the BJP and in an attempt to consolidating the Muslim vote, she is upping the ante against NRC as a humanitarian crisis.
The realities of the sufferings of the people of Assam, due to constant flow of illegal immigrants, cannot be ignored. Despite, the firm commitment to “detect and deport foreigners” by two of its Prime Ministers – first by India Gandhi in 1971 and then by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 – Congress stands exposed by not supporting the genuine the rights of the citizens.
Worst, even when the whole NRC exercise is monitored by the apex court, the opposition parties are not willing to acknowledge. On the other hand they are simply accusing BJP of playing divisive politics.
The Assam Accord is the basis of the process of updating the NRC. On the issue of illegal immigrants, the Assam Accord emphasis on three aspects: Detection, Deletion and Deportation. Sadly, the NRC exercise by which people of Assam believed will bring in a solution to their long neglected problem, did not happen. Unfortunately, from 1985, successive government have failed the people of the state. Despite, in power for two terms, the Assam Gana Parishad, which had prominent student leaders who were the backbone of the Assam Agitation, were not able to carry out the process. Subsequently, the Congress government gave it a half-hearted push in 2005 but it was the Supreme Court, which responding to a PIL on illegal immigrants by the NGO Assam Public Works, mandated a time-bound completion of the update of the register.
But now, when the BJP government has taken the initiative, questions are being raised on the fairness of the process of updating NRC. Opposition doubts that the whole exercise as new ground rules have been added. Be it the demonetisation drive or GST implementation, all big government schemes have faced some unintended implementation issues. At the same time, any serious doubt on fairness of the initiatives of such schemes will undermine the real the purpose and benefits that may arise both for the country and its people.
But, the centre seems to be determined to swallow the bitter pill and ensure that a onetime cleaning process is necessary to curb the Illegal immigration in to Assam. On the other hand, the opposition parties have also painted a communal colour to the process. They allege that only Bengali speaking Muslims are being targeted through this process. Clearly they are ignoring the fact that a large chunk of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are Bengali speaking Muslims. They have also ignored the fact that a significant number of Bengali speaking Hindus also are under scrutiny and won’t see their names in the updated NRC.
Also, the allegation cannot be entirely wrapped under the carpet, as the centre added one more layer of complication by proposing to introduce a bill that seeks to facilitate Indian citizenship of minorities in neighbouring countries. Such a move will allow the Bengali speaking Hindu illegal immigrants from Bangladesh residing in Assam to secure their citizenship. While the proposed legislation apparently has been shelved temporarily, the opposition also allege that there are plans to grant long term visas to Bengali speaking Hindus to garner votes.
BJP president Amit Shah reminded everyone that the accord was signed in 1985 under the Rajiv Gandhi led Congress government. “Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord in 1985, which was similar to NRC. They did not have the courage to throw out Bangladeshis. We have the courage and we are doing it,” Shah said. He asked said, "NRC is being conducted on the SC order. There are 40 lakh people missing in the list. Whom do you want to save? You want to save illegal Bangladeshis? He also demanded to come out in open and say whether the Congress wanted to protect the "illegal Bangladeshis" in the eastern state. He noted that the NRC was the spirit of the 1985 Assam Accord which sought to identify illegal migrants into Assam and prepare a list of Indian citizens.
Shah accused the Opposition of instigating communal strife by fomenting misinformation. He alleged that Mamata Banerjee saw a "vote bank" in illegal immigrants for win in elections while BJP was looking at the security of the country and rights of its citizens. Shah also reminded the Congress about the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's statements that illegal immigrants have no place in India. He declared that no Indian citizen should be concerned and natives of any other state living in Assam would not be touched.
What the future holds for People of Assam?
On the face of it, compiling a National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a good idea. Though it is a democratic process and most countries in the world have one such register, the opposition parties are questioning the timing and the way it is being executed.
Before initiating the execution of such a mammoth process that has the potential to displace millions of people, the government should exercised lot of caution and also must have in place a possible solution. The conundrum over the NRC exercise poses lot of difficult questions to answer.
The fact that lakhs of citizens were forced to establish proof that they or their parents or grandparents were living in Assam before 1971 has made the whole process tricky. What about the children born in India? Do they not have a claim to Indian citizenship? Will the children be separated from their families?
Now that the names of 40 lakh people have been left out, obviously the question what will happen to the people whose name does not figure in the register, begin to haunt both the people of the state and the state government.
What will the government do with those who, at the end of the process, cannot prove their citizenship? At that point they will have been rendered stateless. Will they be taken to detention centres? But what will happen then? India may wish to deport them but will Bangladesh agree? Already Bangladesh on its part, has maintained that NRC is India's internal matter and not a bilateral issue. So, what the future holds for these people?
Already the opposition parties have geared up to project the whole process as the one targeted against Muslims. They allege that once passed, the bill guarantees that among those declared stateless in Assam the Hindu will be free to stay as full citizens, but the Muslims, on the other hand, could face the door.
Promised by Rajiv Gandhi and then initiated by Manmohan Singh and finally monitored by the Supreme Court, the National Register of Citizens, has traversed through the decades and in the process seen many political battles too. But, the present Modi government seems to be too determined to implement the NRC.
Overall, the BJP has seized on the issue that resonates with its broader agenda of nationalism to corner opposition parties in the election year. Further, Shah has also vociferously declared that the problem of illegal Bangladeshi settlers was not confined to Assam and the BJP would take a call on whether to expand the exercise to other states like West Bengal at an opportune time.
With the implementation of NRC, it is very clear that the BJP has scored over the opposition who are concerned with the rights of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants than that of the citizens. Besides, the party has established its position as the party with national interests and its primary focus lies in protecting the rights of Indians.