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Politics Over NRC: UNFORTUNATE DEVELOPMENT, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 16 August 2018 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 16 August, 2018

Politics Over NRC


By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


A national issue, the NRC in Assam, that has to be approached with long-term national welfare and security interests as the object and decided with due consideration to the manifold consequences of this demographic development is sadly entangled in local communal, linguistic, electoral calculations.


In fact, with the BJP firmly committed to completing and releasing the National Register of Citizens and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee firm on opposing it as anti-Bengali and a communal venture, there has arisen a crucial issue for 2019 electoral battle an bitter verbal warfare to polarize voters.


Recently, BJP President Amit Shah has asserted that the ongoing process of compilation of the NRC would not be stopped for opposition by the TMC, and challenged Bengal Chief Minister Mamata to stop the process. This, after she said, “The NRC is being done with a political motive. We will not let this happen. They (the BJP) are trying to divide the people. There will be a civil war, bloodbath in the country.”


The words are too strong for normal criticism of a government policy and its execution by an Opposition party however deep the differences may be. They spoil the atmosphere for discussions and rule out meeting points. What provoked such a strong reaction beyond inter-party animosities is not clear. What is obvious to the lay public is total lack of willingness on the part of political leaders to give serious thought to all the dimensions of the problem and find a solution that serves the nation’s interests, which include national security and peace, and friendly relations with neighbouring countries.


Truly, political parties seem to have lost their balance to deal with problems dispassionately delinked from their sole agenda of winning voters. As a result, they tend to rouse passions, and incite mob action instead of creating awareness and understanding of public affairs in the common people.


As part of 1951 Census operation, a national register of citizens was created that contained details of every person -- name, age, father’s/husband’s name, houses or holdings belonging to them, means of livelihood, etc. Assam had experienced large-scale migration of people from East Pakistan during 1947 Partition and from Bangladesh after its creation in 1971 causing several problems for the residents of the State.


The NRC is a “positive” list of citizens who have been able to prove their residence in Assam prior to March 24, 1971 or linkages to a pre-1971 ancestor. It is also clarified that those left out will not be deported forthwith, but can be declared foreigner only after judicial scrutiny --  meaning that deletion is not instantaneous or automatic. Those whose names are missing in the list and those who dispute the inclusion of some others may move the Foreigner’s Tribunal within 60 days. The modalities for claiming inclusion in the Register by those left out have been worked out.


Migrants from East Bengal and later Pakistan have included a large number of Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims. Thereby, linguistic angle, which is not a criterion for nationhood or citizenship, is added to the issue about foreigners by interested political forces.


As is well-known by now, the Assam Movement against foreigners erupted in 1979 with the sudden inflation in electoral rolls by registration of “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh and led to the Assam Accord between Government of India, AASU and AGP leaders. In 1983 the illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act was passed, which put the onus of proving citizenship which vested with the migrant under the Foreigner’s Act of 1946 was changed as the responsibility of the complainant to prove that the migrant was a foreigner.


In 2005, the Supreme Court declared the IMDT Act as unconstitutional and asked the Assam Government to constitute tribunals under the Foreigners’ Act to decide on “illegal migrants”.   However, the process being complicated, determination of foreigners went slow and few were actually deported and many were reported to be “missing”.


The NRC, being conducted under the Supreme Court, is a product of the Assam Accord. It is delayed so long that even the Congress and its allies seem to have forgotten that the Congress government was the principal partner of the Accord. Time cannot take away the importance of vital issues, but can only add urgency. Citizenship part of the Accord is becoming more and more important with the passage of time. The problem has already spread to more States in the North-East region due to easy infiltration possible through our international borders and free movement between States in India.


The Assam Accord had been practically ineffective in preventing illegal migrants. Bangladeshi infiltration became a principal issue in Assam State election in 2011. It was even said that if this was not stopped, the State of Assam would definitely get a Bangladeshi CM within 10 years!


The question of foreigners has become complicated due to electoral politics and vote bank concept. National interests have become secondary to party interests and electoral prospects.  The TMC considered the problem of infiltrators entering into the voter list as a “very serious matter” and was vociferous in 2005 demanding discussion on the issue in Parliament. Bengal was then ruled by CPM and TMC was in Opposition. Today, its stand is completely reversed as the ruling party.


The nation has a legitimate right to know the ground for such a drastic change in a ruling party’s stand on such a crucial national issue in order to weigh the arguments on both sides. Party positions may change, but should be with legitimate reasons made known to people. It will help the party gain more support.


At some point, a fair exercise to determine genuine citizens and foreigners has to be undertaken, particularly in areas open to illegal immigration. At no time there is going to be consensus on the issues involved given the party politics as it has developed in India. The sooner the process is gone through, the better for the country.

One may recall the provisions of the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act 1950 which provided for expulsion of foreigners from Assam if their stay was detrimental to the interests of the general public of India or of any section thereof or any Scheduled Tribes in Assam.


Doubts and fears may arise because of high chances of mistakes and difficulties in getting corrections. For, cases of deletion of names in electoral rolls and Census registers are common in many places and are faced even by persons residing in the same place for several years.


Our concept of human rights is very advanced today that rightly we tend to be cautious and accurate so as to serve the interests of the nation without violating the rights of any person. The nation expects a genuine unbiased register and a smooth process of its finalisation. Therefore, the foremost task is to liberate the NRC from the unfortunate development of party politics over it and adopt a national outlook. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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