GUWAHATI, India, 9 October 2019
As the Indian Union government has decided for screening of all illegal migrants taking shelter in the populous country though updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for a nationwide database of genuine citizens (also detect illegal foreigners), one can apprehend more chaos and confusion across the south Asian nation in the days to come.
Slowly but steadily the demand for NRC updating in the line of Assam has gained momentum. Hardliner nationalist politicians from various provinces mostly ruled by Hindu-centric Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), have come out openly in favour of the NRC updating process which finally inspired the Union home minister Amit Shah to declare that the government in New Delhi would introduce it across the country. Even Indian President Ram Nath Kovind in one of his addresses in the Parliament mentioned that New Delhi was aware of the security threat because of illegal infiltrators and hence the Centre has shown interest in implementing the NRC across India so that illegal foreigners could be identified and appropriate actions taken under the law.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wish for countrywide NRC updating has been supported by BJP leaders from Karnataka, Tripura, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, etc. The BJP-ruled State government in Bangalore has recently initiated discussions with New Delhi aiming to upgrade NRC in the south Indian State so that it could prevent criminal activities orchestrated by unauthorized individuals.
In West Bengal, though State government head Mamata Banerjee vehemently opposes the NRC updating process, the Centre continues pursuing the same across the country. Trinamool Congress chief is understood to stand firmly against the NRC with an aim to safeguard her vote banks with the Muslim settlers from Bangladesh.
A recently concluded massive NRC updating process has put Assam in the international media space, as over 1.9 million people were excluded from the final list of NRC-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 to prepare a list of authentic Indian citizens. The hectic process in Assam was indirectly meant for identifying the illegal migrants residing here since 25 March 1971 till today. 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 31 August 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 1951 NRC, voters’ lists or other relevant government documents issued prior to the midnight of 24 March 1971 were recognized for inclusions.
The prescribed cut-off date (25 March 1971) is taken from the historic 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 (read East Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals), who entered Assam after the cut-off date.
After two drafts of NRC, the final was released on 31 August, 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 may be declared as foreigners after exhausted judicial processes.
As the NRC came to light, 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, Communist Party of India, with a few others, came out with support to Assam NRC. They argued that the updated NRC is an outcome of intensive labour hours and should be considered as a first step to solve the illegal migrant issue in Assam.
However, a strong voice of dissatisfaction was raised by Assam Public Works (APW), which filed a writ petition in the apex court appealing for revision of the voters’ list with an aim to remove the illegal migrants’ names. 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.
Meanwhile, the ruling BJP has declared that it would go to the apex court with the appeal for reviewing the NRC. BJP leader and State Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma commented that as many genuine Indians are being left out in the NRC, they would not receive 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.
The emphasis of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideologue of ruling BJP, is very clear over NRC 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 the citizenship amendment bill, which is expected to be tabled and get passed in both the Houses of Parliament by this year for safeguarding their political interests.
Even the All-Assam Students’ Union, which initiated the anti-foreigners Assam movement in the Eighties, also 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.
Mentionable is that Asom Sanmilita Mahasangha, an umbrella organization of several indigenous ethnic groups, continues demanding 1951 as the base year for determining citizenship, and it has already approached the apex court with their arguments. Expressing apprehension 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.
A New-Delhi-based rights group has even come out with a statement that Assam witnessed a massive influx of Bangladeshi (formerly East Pakistan) nationals prior to 1971, and that no such noticeable influx of foreigners took place in the post-71 period. Quoting the relevant census reports, Rights and Risks Analysis Group director Suhas Chakma asserted that the major influx of foreigners into Assam in the post-71 period is not supported by any government statistics.
About the author
Nava Thakuria is a journalist and media commentator based in Guwahati, Northeast India. He has been covering socio-political developments of Northeast India, along with its neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, for various media outlets for more than two decades.
More articles by Nava Thakuria on Tibet Sun.