Political game behind NRC

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Political game behind NRC

Ever since the issue of Assam’s National Citizens Register (NRC) has cropped up the political blame-game has begun in earnest. BJP’s president went into chest thumping mode and proclaimed that “Congress did not have the guts to implement the Assam accord, but we shall see it through”. It seems the BJP president has forgotten that 1985 onwards, various parties have governed Assam and have been in power at the centre. Amit Shah’s statement raises pertinent and pointed questions about the role of the Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in this issue as Vajpayee’s Government at the centre was a partner with the Assam Gana Parishad from 1996 to 2001 in the State. Is he implying that the BJP Government, led by Vajpayee was a bunch of cowards who did not have the guts to see the accord through?

Assam is the only State of India which has gone through the process of creating a National Citizens Register. After independence in 1947, there was a free flow of people from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) to Assam and of Assam citizens to Bangladesh. Taking cognizance of this movement of people to and from the States, the then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan reached an accord on April 8, 1950.  This accord was created to help hundreds of thousands of people who were displaced by the partition. People were leaving their ancestral places and migrating, leaving behind their assets and ancestral properties. This Accord ensured that people migrating from both sides could lay claim to their properties and assets that had been looted as a consequence of the partition and enabled them to sell their properties and assets. This Accord was also created to ensure that both countries did not go to war with each other over issues related to migration of people from the region.

As a consequence of this Accord, the first NCR was created in Assam which is also home to people from Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Nepal and  tribals from other parts of India. According to the 2011 Census, there are 21 lakh Hindi-speaking people in Assam. From the year 1979 to 1989, Assam Gana Parishad and others launched a drive to identify people living illegally in Assam to deport them.

In 1985, Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi’s maturity and acumen saw the birth of the Assam Accord. As per this Accord, there were two ways in which a person staying in Assam could lay claim to Indian citizenship. People whose parents’/ancestors’ names were lodged in the NCR in 1951 were recognised as Indian citizens or else any person furnishing proof of residence for self or his parents/family members in Assam on or before 24/3/1971 was accorded the status of an citizen of India.

In 2005, the Government of Manmohan Singh and Assam Gana Parishad started the process of overhauling the NCR. This matter was referred to the Supreme Court of India who appointed a convenor to deal with the issue and to see it through properly, the court fixed July 30, 2018, as the final date for listing and updating the citizen database. As a part of this overhauling and updating process, three crore twenty-nine lakh applications were scrutinised and out of these two crore eighty-five lakh applications were found in order.

This process has put a question mark on the future of forty lakh people living in Assam. After publication of the register the Union Home Minister stated in the Lok Sabha: “Madam Speaker I want to clarify that government had no role to play in generating the data of this register, this exercise has been carried out under the aegis of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India. Further the list published is not final, everyone shall be given an opportunity to present their case after 28/08/2018, the probable time window shall be two to three months, the outcome of the representation shall be the sole preview of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. All routes of seeking justice are open to those effected. Those wanting approach international tribunals are free to do so. There is no need or cause for anyone to fear, no decision shall be forced on anyone”. 

On the one hand, the Union Home Minister is approaching the subject in a very calm and mature manner, on the other, the BJP president’s words are invoking fear. This is a well-thought-out strategy to divide the country on religious lines in view of the 2019 General Election. It is beyond comprehension that while it took years to generate data of two crore eighty-five lakh citizens, the issue of the disputed forty lakh (who constitute around 12 per cent of the applicants) shall be sorted in two to three months. The question is: Will the Government request the Supreme Court to give adequate time to these forty lakh people to present their respective cases properly? How will they ensure that not one Indian suffers in this entire process?

There are serious errors in the register. For example, the names of the family members of the late President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed are missing. The name of Ajmal Haq, a hero of the Indian Army, is also missing in the register, whereas the names of three of his family members are mentioned. Amongst other prominent names, the name of Anant Kumar Malo, who is a BJP MLA and names of family members of Maulana Amaruddin, the first deputy speaker of Assam Assembly, are also missing.

The NCR cost the country 1,200 crore rupees and its full of glaring anomalies and gaps. Will the Central and State Governments take action against those responsible for this mess? Perhaps not, because there is a larger game plan with 2019 in mind at play.

Also, does the Government have a roadmap for sending whoever is identified as an illegal citizen back to Bangladesh? The Bangladesh Minister of Information and Broadcasting has categorically stated that “this is India’s internal matter, Bangladesh has nothing to do with this affair, there are no Bangladeshi infiltrators in India, this matter has to be sorted out by the Government of India. India has long history of caste and ethnic related problems”. It is the responsibility of the Government of India to inform the people and the Parliament of India as to how they propose to deal with illegal migrants/infiltrators or is this ouster of illegals going to be another chunaavi jumla? Figures from 2005 to 2013 reveal that during the period the UPA Government sent back 82,728 Bangladeshi infiltrators while comparatively from 2014 to 2017 the BJP Government sent back a total of 1,348 infiltrators to Bangladesh.

When the BJP was in Opposition, it went to town protesting against ‘India Bangladesh Land Agreement’. They staged dharnas and created ruckus in Parliament. Surprisingly, after assuming power, they implemented the same agreement in letter to the last full stop and comma. This dual character did win them votes but internationally their actions projected the nation in a very negative light.

All political parties must remember and understand that such issues are sensitive. It does not behove the BJP to encash every such issue whether of the NCR or the right of return of Kashmiri Pandits or issues of local identity in North-eastern States and milk them for political-electoral gains. They must introspect and ask themselves — power, but at what cost?

Being a border State it’s doubly imperative to ensure that Assam remains stable at all costs, a disturbed North East is a dream situation for India's enemies. Therefore, it is incumbent on all political parties to behave in a responsible manner.

(The writer is an AICC spokesperson)

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