06 October 2019
As the Union government has decided to screen of all “illegal” migrants who are allegedly taking shelter in the country by seeking to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in order to create a nationwide database of “genuine” Inidan citizens, even as detecting “illegal” foreigners, one can apprehend more chaos and confusion across India in the days to come.
Slowly but steadily the demand for NRC updation on the lines of Assam is gaining momentum. Hardline nationalist politicians from various states, mostly ruled by Hindu-centric Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), have come out openly in favour of updating NRC, leading Union home minister Amit Shah to declare that the Government of India would introduce NRC across the country.
Even President Ram Nath Kovind in one of his addresses in Parliament said that New Delhi was “aware” of the security threat because of illegal infiltrators and hence the Centre has shown interest in implementing NRC across India, so that “illegal” foreigners could be identified and taken appropriate actions under the law.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wish for a countrywide NRC updation has been supported by BJP leaders from Karnataka, Tripura, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh etc. The BJP ruled State government in Bangalore recently initiated discussions with New Delhi aiming to upgrade NRC in the Karnataka so that it could prevent “criminal activities” allegedly orchestrated by unauthorized individuals.
In West Bengal, though the state government headed by Mamata Banerjee vehemently opposes the NRC updating process, the Centre continues pursuing the same across the country. The Trinamool Congress chief is understood to stand firmly against NRC, even as her opponents say, she is doing it to safeguard her vote banks with the Muslim settlers from Bangladesh.
However, the chaos and confusion over NRC updation in Assam is evident. The recently-concluded massive NRC updating process has put Assam on the international map after over 1.9 million people were excluded from the final list of NRC as recognized citizens in the state. Comprising mostly Bengali-speaking Muslim and Hindu nationals, those excluded individuals have now to wait for the verdict of foreigner’s tribunals and subsequent higher court orders.
The “purpose” of updating NRC is primarily claimed to be to prepare a list of “authentic” Indian citizens. The hectic process in Assam was indirectly meant for identifying “illegal” migrants residing here since March 25, 1971. It was mandatory for every resident of Assam to apply for including their names in the updated NRC.
Directed and monitored by the Supreme Court, the process witnessed the participation of 3,30,27,661 applicants. The process of receiving NRC application forms, following the apex court order in 2013, started in May 2015 and ended on August 31, 2015. All applications were scrutinized by over 50,000 Assam government employees, supported by over 7,000 data entry operators, for all these years and they took the decisions for inclusion and exclusion of individuals as statutory officers.
The individuals, who (or their descendants) appear in the 1951 NRC, voters’ lists or other relevant government documents issued prior to the midnight of March 24, 1971 were recognized for inclusion. The prescribed cut-off date (March 25, 1971) was taken from the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985 by the Centre with the leaders of six years long anti-foreigners Assam movement in presence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The accord reposed responsibility on the government to detect and deport all migrants (those who supposed to be East Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals), who entered Assam after the cut-off date. After two drafts of NRC, the final one was released on August 31, as the apex court denied any more time for re-verification of the list.
Both the governments in New Delhi and Dispur wanted re-verification in some selected localities as it was apprehended that many illegal migrants had enrolled their names in the up-to-date list with fake documents. The final NRC thus excludes 19,06,657 people, most of whom maybe declared as foreigners.
However, as final NRC was made public, only a few outfits found it satisfactory, whereas most of the mainstream organizations expressed dissatisfaction alleging errors in the exclusion of indigenous families and inclusion of illegal foreigners.
The All-India United Democratic Front, the Communist Party of India and a few others came out in support of the Assam NRC, arguing that the updated NRC is an outcome of intensive labour hours and should be considered as a first step to solve the illegal migrants’ issue in Assam.
However, strong voice of dissatisfaction was raised by the Assam Public Works (APW), which filed a writ petition in the apex court appealing for revision of voters’ list with the aim to remove the illegal migrants’ names.
Relevant census reports are being quoted to assert that major influx of foreigners into Assam in post-1971 period is not supported by any government data
APW chief Abhijit Sarma commented that the present form of NRC would only help the illegal migrants (read Bangladeshi nationals) to get their names enrolled. He asserted that the complete re-verification of NRC becomes the need of the hour to safeguard the future of Assamese people from the invasion of Bangladeshi settlers in Assam for decades.
The ruling BJP has declared that it would go to the apex court with the appeal for reviewing NRC. BJP leader and state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma commented that as many “genuine Indians” are being left out in NRC, they do not agree with the outcome. The saffron party’s regional ally Asom Gana Parishad also came out with the statement that the final NRC could not bring relief to the indigenous population of Assam.
RSS, which is the ideologue of ruling BJP, said that no Hindu (along with Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Christian) families should face expulsion from the country. The answer to such initiatives would be driven by the citizenship amendment bill, which is expected to be tabled and passed in both the Houses of Parliament for safeguarding their political interests.
Even the All-Assam Students’ Union, which initiated the anti-foreigners Assam movement in the 1980s, expressed dismay over the final NRC. Similarly, Muslim Kalyan Parishad and Asom Garia-Maria Yuba Chhatra Parishad claimed that the final NRC is not acceptable to them as it contains huge anomalies. Commenting that the indigenous people are not happy with the final NRC, they have demanded its re-verification.
Assam’s anti-influx group Prabajan Virodhi Mancha (PVM) also termed the process of screening citizenship as faulty. PVM convener and a senior advocate Upamanyu Hazarika demanded that the cut-off year for identifying foreigners in the state should be changed to 1951 as like any other parts of India. He urged the people of Assam to support the initiative to review the cut-off year (1971) as prescribed in the Assam Accord.
Asom Sanmilita Mahasangha, an umbrella organization of several indigenous ethnic groups, meanwhile, continues to demand 1951 as the base year for determining citizenship and it has already approached the apex court with their arguments. Expressing apprehensions that hundred thousand Bangladeshi migrants, who entered Assam prior to 1971, might have enrolled their names in the list, the forum commented that the present form of NRC cannot be the final list of bonafide Indian nationals.
Even a New Delhi based rights group came out with a statement that Assam witnessed a massive influx of Bangladeshi (formerly East Pakistan) nationals prior to 1971 and no such noticeable influx of foreigners took place in the post-1971 period. Quoting relevant census reports, Rights and Risks Analysis Group director Suhas Chakma asserted that major influx of foreigners into Assam in the post-1971 period is not supported by any government statistics.
*Northeast India based political commentator