The final draft of the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) report is a welcome sight, but the thought behind it is confusing many, and hurting those who are left out.
The sheer volume of commentary and diversity of opinion on the publication of the final draft of the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) in Assam on Monday which, readers are reminded, is a State-specific exercise conducted under the watchful eye of the Supreme Court of India to update the last such exercise conducted in 1951 (co-terminus with the first national census) to identify illegal migrants and determine genuine Indian citizens, leads us to first define the issue. Given Assam’s geographical proximity to Bangladesh and its infamously porous borders, the indigenous communities of the State have long been demanding and update of the 1951 NRC especially post the 1971 Bangladesh war which resulted in the influx of lakhs of refugees from Bangladesh. Assamese groups led anti-foreigner agitations, which on occasion took a violent turn leading to massacres of those perceived by the local population to be non-Assamese, wreaked havoc on the political-administrative structure and societal cohesion in the State through the 1970s and 1980s till the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 between the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Rajiv Gandhi-led Central Government.
The BJP State Government which came to power in 2016 having promised an NRC update and expulsion of illegals, acted with alacrity to take forward the implementation the publication of the NRC which includes the condition that only those residing in the State before 25 March 1971 and their descendants would be eligible for inclusion in the NRC and thereby Indian citizenship which is in harmony with the Assam Accord and followed the apex court’s instructions in the matter expeditiously. The provisions of the Accord have brought relative peace to this sensitive border State over the past 33 years but the repeated delays in getting the NRC out by the Congress State Government over the past decade had left many apprehensive that the State could slide back into ethnic bloodletting. The final draft of the NRC leaves out 40 lakh people whose claim to Indian citizenship is doubtful and/or suspect; approximately 2.9 crore of the 3.3 crore applicants found their names included in the draft NRC. This number, however, is approximately 1 crore more than those who did not find their names in the earlier draft of the NRC published last year. And even those who do not find their names in the final draft have the option of submitting claims supported by credible evidence in favour of their inclusion and the process of judicial appeal is also open to them. Both the State and Centre have promised that the might of the administration will be deployed to minimise any genuine citizen slipping through the cracks due to a lack of awareness of procedures or unthinking application of rules. The Assam Chief Minister has also assured the residents of the State whose names are not in the final draft that their cases will be handled with due care and sensitivity as and when they petition the authorities for inclusion. Given all above, the NRC is a welcome move. The Assam Government, however, should be extra-cautious that, for example, Bengali-speaking residents of Assam are not stigmatised as has been the case in the past when they have been targeted in riots or for that matter Hindi-speaking migrants, from say north Bihar, who are able to furnish a credible case for their citizenship are not termed ‘Bangladeshis’. But the biggest issue which needs grappling with is: What next? When the process of appeals is completed by 31 December 2018, even if many thousands or even lakhs more are included in the NRC, what happens to the 20, 30 or 35 lakh people who are still left out? Bangladesh is highly unlikely to accept them and we can hardly put them on a boat out to sea. Assam’s neighbouring States are going to be the likely destination for them, which will create a new set of problems.
Writer: The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer