In election speeches to galvanise voters across the country, from Rajasthan to West Bengal, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) never forgets to rake up the issue of the National Register for Citizens (NRC). The promise is to drive out illegal immigrants from the country.
However, when such a demand comes from the ‘indigenous’ people of Tripura, the home ministry and the new BJP government in the state go on an overdrive to say that no such action is being considered by the central government.
Demographic change due to immigration is as much a reality of Tripura, as it is of Assam. In the decade between 1941 and 1951, the percentage of tribal population in the state dropped from 53% to 37%. As per the latest 2011 Census, the tribal population of the state has gone down to just about 30% of the total population. Post-Partition and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh, there has been a massive migration of Bengali-speaking population to Tripura.
Currently, they are the majority community of the state, which is surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides. Thus, if the demand for an NRC update is genuine, then so it is for Tripura. Why is then the government so hesitant in updating the list in Tripura, but not in Assam? This is even as the same party is in power in both the states and in the Centre.
The answer lies in demographics and majoritarian politics. For years, politics in Assam was driven by the single phenomenon of Assamese identity. While thousands lost their lives in the struggle, political parties successfully managed to use this to usurp power in the state. In 2011, it was Tarun Gogoi of the Congress who was the great ‘Ahom General’ and Badruddin Ajmal the ‘Mughal villain’. In the subsequent election, BJP , a party known to pander to the majoritarian views, became the vanguard of Assamese identity.
The completion of NRC during BJP’s tenure is only helping the party in its politics in other states as well. Majority of those whose names did not figure in NRC draft are Bengali Muslims. For a party which captured national imagination by allegedly aiding to the demolition of Babri Masjid, the timing couldn’t have been better. The NRC update threat by the party has become a thinly veiled attack to a particular community, the Bengali Muslims, and by extension to all the Muslims.
But the situation in Tripura is different. Unlike Assam, Bengalis are in majority there, they are also primarily Hindu Bengalis. Thus, an NRC update in Tripura can create anxiety among the Bengali Hindus. At a time when the Citizenship Bill, which aims at giving citizenship to all the minority communities of neighbouring countries except Muslims, is still pending, it can come as a huge embarrassment for the party.
It is not just that NRC update in Tripura will upset the majority community and could spell doom for the party in the subsequent election. The party’s ideological fountainhead, RSS, and the Sangh Parivar have taken upon themselves to protect the rights of the Hindus across the globe. In such a situation, the party cannot be seen increasing the anxiety of the Hindus who allegedly moved to India , fleeing the persecution they faced in Bangladesh.
Thus, while a PIL is pending in the Supreme Court for an NRC update in Tripura, the state and the central government are not likely support the demand in court. Will the court then look at parity of the two situation or go by the government’s version? Will the NRC exercise lead to such requests in all the border states of the country? Could it be West Bengal next, or Nagaland or Manipur, or any other state? Could it end up being just a tool which would be used to harness the majoritarian votes in elections to come?
(Manas T is a freelancer. Views expressed are his own)