-NJ Thakuria from Guwahati
The entire issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC) stems from the Assam Accord (1985), which was signed between the leaders of the anti-foreigners’ movement in Assam and the Union Government in the presence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. NRC came out under the strict supervision of the Supreme Court and after the mammoth exercise of over three years involving 55,000 State govt employees. However, without appreciating the Constitutional and cultural aspects of the exercise, the divisive politics of the Opposition parties detonated! Before defending the infiltrators, the leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi must realise that it is the issue of national integration and security and not of the vote-bank politics
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to be fuming over citizens scanning exercise in Assam, and she has tried to explain the practice, which is monitored by the Supreme Court of India, as anti-Bengali (read Muslim), but nobody subscribes her views in Assam and instead the people urged the Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo to look after her state properly than poking her nose in other States’ affairs.
The debate, which continued for a few months now, came alive once again with the release of the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam on July 30. The outcome was somehow shocking for the rest of India, but the people of Assam, irrespective of their community, language and religion, believed that no less than 30 lakh illegal foreigners (read Bangladeshi nationals) were taking shelter in the northeastern state.
The Assam Accord (1985)
The historic memorandum of understanding, signed by leaders of All Assam Students Union & Gana Sangram Parishad in the presence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi The Accord began with the assurance that the “Government has all along been most anxious to find a satisfactory resolution to the problem of foreigners in Assam.” Consequently, it put together a list of resolutions to be implemented in order to solve the immigration issue in Assam. As per the 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,” said the Accord.
According to the NRC draft in Assam, 3,29,91,384 individuals applied for citizenship certificates, where 2,89,83,677 people were identified as nationals with valid papers. The rest (40,007,707) were deleted from the final draft. However, as it is only a draft, they can apply for corrections in the list with valid documents. Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal termed the release of NRC draft as historic. He also expressed his heartfelt appreciation and thanks to the Supreme Court and congratulations to over 55,000 government officials engaged in the NRC updating process and the people living across the Barak and Brahmaputra Valleys, plains and hills of the State. “I am confident that the NRC, which has become the instrument to safeguard the interest of greater Assamese society, would be able to create a positive atmosphere and it will also pave the way for realising the hopes and aspirations of the genuine Indian citizens,” he said.
“No Indian has been excluded by the NRC. Only those who haven’t been able to present proof of their citizenship have been excluded from the draft. 40 lakh is not a final figure. The Supreme Court laid down procedure will be followed” — Amit Shah, BJP President
He expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for their interest showing for an error-free NRC where the names of all genuine Indian citizens would be included. Apart from providing necessary funds by the Centre for this purpose, the Union Home Minister took part in discussions with various stakeholders. “After the publication of the first draft of NRC, people cutting across castes and tribes, religious, linguistic divides residing in both the valleys, plains and hills of the State showed tremendous unity and harmony. I hope that the people will maintain the same harmonious environment after the publication of the complete draft,” Sonowal added. But not everyone was happy with the draft publication, as various opposition parties vigorously debated against the process in both houses of the Parliament. The Opposition voices, led by Mamata Banerjee with support from the Congress, BSP, CPM, SP and AIUDF, etc., made the Parliament witness massive debates showing anger against the draft.
With more to it, West Bengal Assembly adopted an all-party resolution accusing Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government in New Delhi of divisive politics over the NRC. Mamata Banerjee also sent a group of her party leaders to Assam and tried to justify that her opposition to the NRC exercise was in favour of humanity. She predicted violence in Assam after the NRC draft publication, but when it did not happen, she commented that she was only apprehensive about it. It may be noted that the first NRC in India was prepared in 1951 following the same year census (after its Independence in 1947). Assam, bordering Bangladesh has been preparing a new NRC following the direction (also monitoring) of the apex court of the country. Earlier, the first NRC draft in Assam was released on December 31, 2017.
Row over Citizenship Status “Who are they to decide who can stay in the country and who cannot? This is a ploy to target particular communities, this is to isolate them. At this rate, there will soon be a civil war, a bloodbath” — Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal CM
The background for the NRC is traced to the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985 by the Centre with the leaders of Assam Movement. The historic memorandum of understanding, signed by leaders of All Assam Students Union and Gana Sangram Parishad in the presence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi culminated the six year long Assam agitation that erupted in 1979. The Accord reposed responsibility over New Delhi to detect and deport all migrants (read East Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals), who entered Assam after the midnight of March 24, 1971. In other words, the agitating leaders agreed to accept all residents of Assam before the dateline as Indian nationals.
Need not be mentioned; the movement was run with the spirit of 1951 as the base year (which is applicable across India) to detect illegal migrants. The agitating leaders, of course, succeeded in pursuing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous communities of Assam in the accord.
One can see the influx of millions of illegal Bangladeshi migrants as a vital socio-political issue for Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur provinces in northeast India. The alienated region shares an international border of 5,182 kilometres (about 99 per cent of its total geographical boundary) with Tibet (now under China), Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Its border with Bangladesh is as long as 1,596 km. Soon after the culmination of the movement, a regional political party named Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was born in 1985. The party provided space to all vital student leaders, and later they succeeded in grabbing power to rule Assam for two separate terms. But shamefully the regional political leaders did precise little to resolve the influx issue.
“Some people are unnecessarily trying to create an atmosphere of fear. I want to assure all that there is no need for any apprehension or fear. Some misinformation is also being spread… Some people may not have been able to submit necessary documents. They will get full opportunity through Claims and Objections process” — Rajnath Singh, Union Minister of Home Affairs
Now the AGP is a political ally to the BJP-led State Government in Dispur. Unlike the previous Congress (or AGP) regimes, the new government under the leadership of Sonowal took the issue of influx seriously. The BJP Government (soon after taking charge in May 2016) pledged to make Assam free from ‘influx, corruption, and pollution’. Initially, the final NRC draft was scheduled to get published on June 30, but following the request of Assam Government, the apex court extended the time limit for one more month. The NRC State coordinator Prateek Hajela, a bureaucrat, informed the court that because of the flood, which inundated many essential centres in Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts of Barak Valley, the updation work was severely affected.
The situation turned more inexplicable when hundred thousand people from different parts of the world recently signed an online petition, launched by ‘Avaaz–The World in Action’ (a campaigning community), to raise voices against the NRC updation process. The petition titled ‘India: Stop Deleting Muslims!’ said that India would erase as many as 7 million Muslims in Assam from its master list of citizens because they speak the wrong language and worship the false God.
Comparing the probable situation with that of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the petition asserted that the victim husbands, wives and children could be torn apart and left to rot in prison camps. The petitioners also drew the attention of UN Secretary General and the international community to issue an early warning about the publication of the NRC in Assam, which might lead to mass violence, ethnic cleansing and the transfer of minority Muslims to prison camps for life.
Ousting the Infiltrators! “Rohingya infiltrators in all the states will be deported. But you don’t need an NRC exercise for it. Law and order machinery of the country, the Home Ministry, will identify them and deport them. No country in the entire world will allow illegal immigrants on its soil” — Ram Madhav, BJP General Seceretary
Earlier, four UN special rapporteurs wrote to New Delhi expressing their concern over the discrimination faced by Bengali Muslim families in Assam to get enrolled in the NRC. They also worried that India has no official policy to address the families who would be excluded from the final citizenship list. The NRC authority along with Assam Government also denied all allegations clarifying that the NRC updation was carried out under the supervision of the apex court. Refuting claims of the ‘Avaaz’-initiated petition, the State NRC coordinator Hajela stated that it was incorrect and misleading. Some vested interests are trying to create disturbances by spreading such wild rumours, he added. Taking cue of the development, a forum of patriotic people urged all sections in the society to exercise restraint while commenting over the sensitive issue as various motivated political leaders, social activists, intellectuals and international campaigners start branding the exercise as anti-Bengali or anti-Muslims.
“It is observed that few local, national and also international elements are presently engaged with unwanted debates over the NRC updating process in Assam. We must not deviate from the issue as none other than the apex court has monitored the massive citizen register exercise,” said a statement issued by Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA).
Criticising West Bengal CM for her inflammatory speech against the NRC, the forum strongly put forward its demand for a comprehensive NRC applicable to the whole nation with the basis of 1951. Soon after the process in Assam ends, the experience should be shared with other States for further course of actions, the Forum commented. It also reiterated its old argument that the Centre should think about offering work permits (without voting rights) to them, who would be identified as illegal foreigners after due processes.