The final list of NRC would be released tomorrow, 31st August, which would decide the fate of 40 lakh people, excluded earlier in the final draft released last year. However, there are many nagging concerns about the process headed by the State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
Earlier both the State and Central dispensations had appealed to the apex court for re-verification of the 20% of the sample in the border districts and 10% in other areas, but these were rejected. The Assam government, unsatisfied with the current process, revealed the National Register of Citizens figures border-wise this month, to prove their point that it’s not free from flaws — the NRC inclusion percentage is higher in the bordering districts, which have higher Muslim population, than other districts, where the indigenous people of the State inhabit. This shows how the NRC and State government are not on the same page, and pinpoints to a new crisis that may emerge after the publication of the final list.
Already there are speculations that the exclusion number may range from 10 lakh to 20 lakh out of the total 40 lakh excluded last time — this year additional 1 lakh were excluded too. There are many issues that need to be sorted out to properly and peacefully execute this process but the politicisation of the process seems to be a hurdle. State BJP government’s revelation of NRC data border-wise is also one of the steps to politicise the process, as the low inclusion in Muslim areas doesn’t fit with the narrative of the saffron party.
On the other hand, the allegations by a section of intellectuals of the country and foreign media that the NRC is carried out by “the Modi government to punish the 40 lakh citizens, mostly Muslims” is highly provocative and worse, is not based on facts. What these intellectuals and the foreign media choose to ignore, the reasons they know better, is that a significant number of Bengali Hindus are expected to be in the exclusion list. Not only this, even a section of natives of the State too may find their names in it. Actually, there are many complexities within this process and it is simply not an anti-Muslim exercise as they are propagating.
First of all, let the facts be clear. NRC is a list of Indian citizens of Assam and was first prepared in 1951 based on that year’s census. The current updation of NRC is based on the principles of the Assam Accord signed in 1985 between the then government of India led by Rajiv Gandhi and the All Assam Students Union. The purpose of updation is to ensure the rights of the indigenous Assamese and tribal communities of the State, following the influx of both the Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims from East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh — infiltration still continued even after its creation.
So, saying that the very process of NRC is wrong is not right. Assam has been facing the burden of immigration, which threatens its demography. According to 2011 census figures Assamese speaking population dropped to 48.38% from 57.81% in 1991. On the other hand, Bengali speaking population rose to 28.91% from 21.67% in 1991. Also, Bodo (an ethnic tribe of Assam) population declined to 4.53% from 4.86% in 2001. It is an obvious reason that no community in this world would like to become a minority in its own land and in this case it applies to the Assamese and indigenous tribal communities.
The main reason for NRC is not wrong but the unresolved issues related to it are the main concerns. The people who will not find their names on the list, although will not become foreigners immediately, but will have to have to approach the Foreigners’ Tribunal Court, which will decide whether the person is a foreigner. The question is what will the government do with these citizens after they are declared foreigners? As per the new rules of the Assam government, declared foreigners who have completed over three years in detention centres can be released based on certain conditions. Plus, deportation of these foreigners to Bangladesh too is almost not possible, as the neighbouring country, already reeling with lakhs of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, has maintained that this is an internal process of India. Certainly, there is no clear policy of the government on this issue.
Another important point is that out of the excluded 40 lakh, four lakh people haven’t applied for inclusion in the NRC list. Most probable reason might be they don’t have the required documents to proof the legacy data for entry in the NRC list. Legacy data is the collective list of the NRC data of 1951 and electoral rolls up to midnight of 24th March, 1971. So, in that case, many of these may be the original inhabitants of the State.
Although, the State government has said it would provide assistance, concerns still remain. Reports suggest many people are suffering from mental problems since their exclusion from last year’s NRC list and are not sure whether their names would be make it to list this time. Also, there are allegations from some sections that the legacy codes are corrupted for entering the names in the NRC list.
Actually, it would be better to find a way to solve this NRC imbroglio. Presently, there is no clear policy to deal with foreigners. Obviously, the State can’t punish the citizens. The citizens declared foreigners can be granted licenses for work permit. Also, the government should consider legislation, where buying and selling of land is reserved only for the locals, which will reduce their fear.
It is also true that Bengali Hindus from East Pakistan migrated to Assam facing persecution in their homelands i.e. they are refugees. Their concerns also need to be heard. The Centre can devise a formula to systematically shift a section of refugees and immigrants to other parts of the country, as it is unfair to load Assam with the burden of immigration.
In conclusion, the political dispensation must take all on board. Obviously, demonising NRC as totally a wrong idea and also politicising it for mere vote bank offers no solution to the process. One shouldn’t forget that it was the promise, made by subsequent Assam Gana Parishad and Congress governments to the natives of Assam, which once witnessed violence due to separatism, of protecting their identity in the State. This must be fulfilled, despite the time lag, as there is nagging danger of separatism being kicked off once again in the State based on Assamese identity. The challenge for the government is to chalk out a proper plan to deal with the people, who aren’t going to be enlisted. Let Assam not burn again.