Assam NRC is an expensive farce; just bury it

Subir Roy | Updated on September 05, 2019 Published on September 05, 2019

Not in the list: 1.9 million names left out

It was clear that the idea of preparing a citizen’s list was non-workable. Egregious ‘inclusions’ and exclusions’ were inevitable

The Assam movement effectively began four decades ago, when a jump in the numbers of voters in the list for a by-election in the late 1970s created a consternation in the minds of the dominant social group, the Assamese caste Hindus, that they were set to lose their linguistic and social identity because of a flood of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The 1985 Assam accord, which brought peace, called for the detection and expulsion of illegal migrants from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971, deletion of their names from the voters list and sealing of the border with Bangladesh.

Anxious atmosphere

What is the outcome of the movement? After being in the making for 14 years, with the last four years under the monitoring of the Supreme Court, the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam has left out 1.9 million of the 33 million residents who had applied to be included.

Critically, none of the groups affected by the whole attempt to identify foreigners is happy. The Assam BJP is unhappy as it considers the 1.9-million number too small; it feels the list includes many illegal foreigners. What is more, it feels many indigenous people, the sons of the soil, as also and Bengali-speaking Hindus, have been excluded as, according to Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, there has been manipulation of legacy documents, with certain documents not being allowed to support claims.

As for the Assam Public Works (APW), the original petitioner in the NRC case before the Supreme Court, it seems to have thrown up its hands in despair and declared that a solution to the issue is “impossible”.

Significantly, the All Assam Minority Students Union also wants all genuine Indians to be included, and will appeal to the Supreme Court as well as give legal help to all genuine Indians who have been excluded. Leaders in the majority Bengali-speaking Barak valley region are also worried, because they feel that a vast majority of the 1.9 million people excluded are Indian and fear they will not be able to vote.

At the national level, the BJP, which has made illegal foreigners from Bangladesh a long-standing electoral issue like the Ram mandir and Article 370, is deeply disappointed with the final shape of the NRC and will continue to seek reverification of the list, particularly in border areas where there is a larger proportion of migrants from Bangladesh.

In line with this political stance, the BJP has repeatedly spoken of deporting illegal immigrants to Bangladesh. But the government at the Centre has avoided expressing any such sentiments and assured the Bangladesh government that the NRC is an internal matter for India.

The External Affairs Ministry, with an eye on adverse foreign media coverage, has clarified that the NRC is not an executive exercise, but a court-mandated and monitored one. Most significantly, it has added that “those who are not in the final NRC list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law.”

There are several cases of retired defence and paramilitary personnel, legislators and their families not finding their names in the updated list. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called the NRC exercise a “fiasco”. She was “shocked that the names of one lakh Gorkha people have been excluded from the NRC.” The Bharatiya Gorkha Parishangh has added that descendants of freedom fighters and martyrs from the community have been excluded. Assam MLAs, cutting across party lines, have said genuine Indian citizens have been left out.

Migration matters

Where do we go now? The APW says “The final NRC has made it obvious that the problem of illegal immigration will never be resolved in Assam.… Hundreds of crores of rupees shall be spent by the State government in the name of its solution, some individuals... may become immensely rich... but the coveted dream of the mass people of Assam to live in an illegal foreigner-free land is an impossibility.”

If the APW and like-minded people in Assam had paid little heed to mankind’s history of migration, they would have realised that to escape severe poverty in search of a better life, people will vote with their feet. There is no way of stopping them, as long as they are alive. The people who conceived and backed the Assam movement are too decent and laid back (they are the defining people of the land of lahe lahe who typically take things easy) to think of wiping them out (like what the Myanmar Army has done to the Rohingyas).

In this they are no different from their West Bengal caste Hindu counterpart. Both were landed gentry who did not work and lived off the toils of their subjects. When the Bengali bhadralok realised that post-independence, he would be rendered a minority under universal adult franchise and along with his emerging Muslim middle-class counterpart, secured the partition of Bengal.

What is now Bangladesh was desperately poor since Indian independence. So its impoverished people voted with their feet to Assam where land was waiting to be cultivated. And an NRC only creates jobs and economic rent for babus. If the hundreds of crores spent on it were used for development, legal and illegal residents alike would have benefited.

The writer is a senior journalist

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Published on September 05, 2019
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