Citizenship conundrum: What’s next for Assam after final NRC list?
Guwahati: Following decades-long struggles and deliberations, Assam is all set to get the much-awaited National Register of Citizens (NRC) soon. The Supreme Court, under whose supervision the update process for the final NRC is being done, has already asked the authorities to declare the final list on August 31, 2019.
Earlier, the apex court had fixed July 31 as the deadline for publication. The SC, in a significant development, has also rejected the government plea for 10% sample verification of the final draft NRC.
After the declaration of the NRC, the people of Assam will at least get a document which will clearly determine the genuine Indian nationals and the foreigners staying in Assam illegally.
Even though the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), a front-ranking students’ body of the state, is of the opinion that the decision to update the NRC was taken as per historic Assam Accord signed on August 15, 1985, senior journalist Prashanta Rajguru believes that it was the then leader of Opposition in state assembly, Brindaban Goswami, who started a debate way back in 2001 or 2002 in House demanding that there should be an NRC in Assam with a cut-off date of March 24, 1971, as mentioned in the Assam Accord.
Some people also believe that names of almost four million people will be excluded from the final list. Can the government of Assam push back these people to their countries of origin? A majority of them have reportedly come from Bangladesh and the government of India doesn’t have any extradition treaty with the neighbouring country.
On the other hand, regarding an observation made on the fate of Doubtful (D) Voters staying in detention camps set up in different parts of the state, the Supreme Court of India said that the government cannot put these people for more than three years in such camps, if it fails to deport them.
In such circumstances, the million-dollar question is: What will happen to these people?
Claiming that the NRC is being updated as per historic Assam Accord, Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya, adviser, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), said that no illegal foreigners will be allowed to stay in Assam, Northeast or in India. “We don’t want to make Assam a second Tripura or second Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
“The Centre should take steps to deport foreigners. India is for Indians, not for illegal Bangladeshis. We don’t want to make Assam a second Tripura or second Jammu and Kashmir,” Bhattacharyya told EastMojo.
Elaborating on the process leading to the release of the final NRC, he said that it was updated way back in 1951. “We have firm belief that we will have an illegal foreigner-free names in the NRC. It is the duty of the government to have a dialogue with its Bangladesh counterpart to convince them to deport these people from Assam,” he said.
Expressing serious concern over the large-scale influx of Bangladeshi nationals to Assam, the students’ leader further said that while scrapping the IM(DT) Act in 2005, the Supreme Court of India said that due to large-scale influx from Bangladesh there is external aggression and internal disturbance in the state of Assam. “The Gauhati High Court had earlier said that illegal foreign nationals had enrolled their names in the electoral roll and later, they became king maker. If this phenomenon continues, indigenous Hindus and Muslims will be minority in their own land and illegal foreigners will intrude upon the corridor of power. This was stated by Gauhati High Court. This is the reality, Bhattacharyya added.
Senior journalist Rajguru, while interacting with EastMojo, alleged that in post-NRC Assam, the Modi-led government in the Centre is trying to give citizenship to the Hindus, ignoring the interest of the Muslims.
“Assam Agitation was never fought on religious lines. Irrespective of religion, we want Assam an illegal immigrant-free state. I am afraid this issue will end up with a very serious and complex human rights issue in South East Asia in future, if not more than Rohingyas. Almost 35 years have passed since the day of signing of the Assam Accord. But we failed to find an exit plan. This is a new phenomenon, a new crisis. The world has never seen this sort of crisis. Due to the lack of exit plan, I doubt that in our lifetime we may not get that expected solution,” he said.
The pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), during its ongoing talks with the Centre in New Delhi, may also play a crucial role to solve the problem.
Talking to EastMojo, senior pro-talk ULFA leader Anup Chetia said that they have already refused a proposal to give long-term visas to the Bangladeshi nationals in India. He, however, claimed that it won’t be possible for the government of India to deport these people to the countries of their origin, especially Bangladesh. Advocating for distribution of this burden among the other Indian states, Chetia also clarified that the voting, educational and other rights of these people, whose names will be excluded from the NRC, should be scrapped. “We don’t even support to give work permit to these people,” he added.
The person who took the matter to the Supreme Court is Abhijit Sharma, president of NGO Assam Public Works (APW). It was Sharma who filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in 2009 and allege that business and vote-bank politics are going on in the name of Bangladeshis in last 35 years in Assam.
Getting an NRC doesn’t mean that the problem will be solved, he said while urging the government to announce the illegal foreigners as stateless citizens. He, however, spoke for giving job cards to these people but scraping their political, educational rights etc.
Talking to EastMojo, ahead of the SC rejection of government plea for 10% sample verification of final NRC, Sharma said, “Is there any compulsion that you have to publish the NRC by July 31, 2019? It may take two-three months, no issue. If we can wait for 35 years, why can’t we wait for another two to three months? We just need a perfect, foreigner-free NRC. In our affidavit to the SC, we have pointed a lot of anomalies in the process relating to the publication of the NRC. Some people need this NRC by July 31, 2019 at any cost, they are just trying their best to earn credit. But we, the petitioner, want a crystal-clear NRC where not a single Bangladeshi national name should be there.”
He also spoke for scrapping of the political rights of these people. “Their growth of population rate should also be controlled at any cost,” Sharma added.
Urging government to deport these nationals in post-NRC Assam, Azizur Rahman, adviser of the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU), said that the Assamese society should not take the responsibility of people of other countries.
Talking to the EastMojo, Rahman also alleged that a section of so-called leaders in the country are playing politics in the name of foreigners’ issue to gain their vested political interests. “We want a proper and error-free NRC, irrespective of bias towards any religion. In post-NRC Assam, the government should take adequate measures to deport those people whose names won’t figure in the final list of the NRC. If the Centre is really interested to solve the problem in Assam or the Northeast, the government of India will definitely be able to convince the Bangladesh government to accept their people from Assam,” Rahman told EastMojo.
Meanwhile, Vijay Kumar Gupta, vice-president, BJP, Assam, said that the Centre will formulate polices to deport these people to the country of their origin. Informing that both the Centre and state government are planning to move ahead in a phased manner, he said that to detect, delete and deport’ is their agenda.
“We are very clear in our agenda to deport these people. However, issues like international humanitarian norms will also be maintained properly. Don’t worry, each and every foreigner staying illegally in Assam will be deported from India in days to come,” Gupta told EastMojo.
Meanwhile, senior journalist and writer Mrinal Talukdar said that nobody will be leaving the state in post-NRC Assam. “It’s a 40-year-long struggle. For the last 40 years, we all are talking about some figures, which don’t have any basis. Most of the figures are vague. We have already accepted that March 24, 1971 is the date for Assam Accord. Everyone is looking for the date of July 31, 2019, the date of publication of the NRC,” he said.
“The people of Assam must be thankful to couple of persons—the person who has taken the matter to the SC is Pradip Bhuyan, Abhijit Sharma of APW and Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi,” he added.
Commenting on the SC observation of 10% sample verification of final NRC, Talkudar said, “This is not the time to obstruct the NRC. If at all you need the revision, let it publish first. Then you have ample time to ask for its revisions. Only those who have vested interests are trying to drag the NRC process indefinitely.”
Informing that nowhere in the world such a process was ever conducted by scrutinising own people, that too 3.2 crore people, Talukdar said that concept like giving work permit to these people will come into effect following the release of the NRC in Assam.
Violation of human rights?
In Assam, who is violating whose human rights, asked AASU adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya.
“Human rights of the indigenous people are being violated by these illegal foreigners. This is the ground reality. We have 49 tribal belts and blocks which have been occupied by these foreign nationals. Forest land, including the world famous Kaziranga National Park, agriculture lands, satras, etc, have been occupied by the illegal Bangladeshi nationals. The whole demographic pattern of the state has been changed,” he said.
Alleging that the human rights of indigenous people have been violated by the influx of these illegal Bangladeshi nationals, Bhattacharyya also said that the advocates of the human rights are propagating and trying to protect the interest of the Bangladeshi nationals. They have even filed affidavit in the Supreme Court and one of the activists has said that the Chief Justice of SC should not be in the Bench, he added.
“So it is their approach. So these human rights activists are trying to safeguard the interest of the illegal Bangladeshis. So we like to tell them that India is for Indians and not for illegal Bangladeshis. Assam and Northeast is in India, not for illegal Bangladeshis. Seal Indo-Bangla border. Give constitutional safeguard to the indigenous people of Assam as per Assam Accord. Assam is our motherland and we are not like to stay in Assam as the second class citizens of the country,” Bhattacharyya said.
Expressing serious concern over the issue, senior journalist Mrinal Talukdar advocated for protection of human rights of the genuine Indian national staying in the country.
“Human rights of majoritarian people were never thought. Human rights of these people in Assam have also to be considered. You can’t alone talk about the humanitarian aspect of people who have been left out. What about the people who has the right to stay in their own state?” Talukdar added.