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The National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published  Assam on August 31 this year
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published Assam on August 31 this year|Representational image
OPINION

After Ayodhya, NRC is the new frontier for BJP

‘NRC is a new holy cow and much to the delight of RSS, NRC was announced for the whole nation, and as a part of India naturally, Assam will also have it again’

Mrinal Talukdar

Mrinal Talukdar

When Union home minister Amit Shah got up in the Rajya Sabha on November 20 to casually tell the members that a pan-India NRC is on, there was little doubt that post-Ayodhya, this is the new frontier of BJP.

Ayodhya had fuelled BJP for the past three decades, but on November 9, the Supreme Court killed the holy cow of the BJP by resolving it amicably.

So naturally the NRC is the new holy cow and much to the delight of the RSS, the NRC was announced for the whole nation, and as a part of India naturally, Assam will also have it.

Now the big question is, will there be completely new NRC in Assam or just an updation of the existing one? This is a big question for Assam Politics. The final NRC of Assam is not making happy to that section, which has been using it as their milking cow. The cow has stopped giving milk.

Now the big question is, will there be completely new NRC in Assam or just an updation of the existing one?

This is a big question for Assam Politics. The final NRC of Assam is not making happy to that section, which has been using it as their milking cow. The cow has stopped giving milk.

" This result is unacceptable, and we are not going to accept the NRC, it has to be redone completely" thundered Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

On the other side, Muslim are happy, indeed very happy as only 8-9 lakh names had been excluded and they were free from now.

On the other side, Muslim are happy, indeed very happy as only 8-9 lakh names had been excluded and they were free from now.

"The NRC had issues, and they included genuine Indian citizen, but the figure is closer to the truth," said Azizur Rahman, adviser of the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU).

A redo of NRC in Assam means a complete reopening of entire NRC process forcing one crore Muslims of Assam to go through another painful journey. The BJP and pressure groups like APW and AASU were unhappy that the majority of Muslims could pass out the NRC screening.

A redo of NRC in Assam means a complete reopening of entire NRC process forcing one crore Muslims of Assam to go through another painful journey. The BJP and pressure groups like APW and AASU were unhappy that the majority of Muslims could pass out the NRC screening.

The situation was further made complex by some careful confusion craftily created by Assam PWD minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

He quietly told the reporters that Assam Government wants a fresh NRC from scratch?

As the home minister and Assam finance minister’s statement came on the same day in the newspapers of Assam, all hell broke loose with complete chaos and confusion over the status of present NRC and fear of going through another process.

As the Home minister and Assam finance minister's statement came on the same day in the newspapers of Assam, all hell broke loose with complete chaos and confusion over the status of present NRC and fear of going through another process.

If you carefully look at the statement of Union home minister Amit Shah, it is a straightforward, simple statement, which was interpreted intentionally to confuse people to keep whole of state under a grip of tension.

BJP loved it, and a completely confused intelligentsia of Assam went on giving their explanation leaving the general people of Assam baffled.

Here are the main questions before people of Assam.

1. Will the whole process of the NRC be done again?

2. Will it not be another Rs 1500-Rs 2000 crores expenditure?

3. Will all of Assam 3.5 crore people have to apply afresh?

4. Will, it not need another decade to have the NRC?

There was Déjà vu in the body language of the right-wing elements from the BJP stable, and they were oozing – I said so type answer.

But is that the actual truth?

Actually No. It is rather quite the opposite.

If you carefully look at the statement of Union home minister Amit Shah, it is a straightforward, simple statement, which was interpreted intentionally to confuse people to keep whole of state under a grip of tension.

This perpetual fear and tension is the key of the pressure groups to run their fiefdom, allowing the political parties of Assam to carry on the business, as usual, milking the situation.

In fact, Union home minister Amit Shah dashed the hope of Assam BJP and the Assam government that the NRC would be done again.

Names of over 19 lakh people have been excluded from the final list of the NRC in Assam. However, some of the leading organisations of state are not happy over process leading to the preparation of the NRC
Names of over 19 lakh people have been excluded from the final list of the NRC in Assam. However, some of the leading organisations of state are not happy over process leading to the preparation of the NRC
EastMojo file image 

Now first look at what Shah said in the floor of the Upper House while responding to a question raised.

1. The process of National Register of Citizens will be carried out across the country. No one irrespective of his or her religion should be worried. It is just a process to get everyone under the NRC. Naturally, Assam also will be covered under this.

2. All those people, who have been excluded from the NRC, have a right to appeal. Tribunals will be set up in each district, and for those who do not have money to approach the tribunals, the Assam government will bear the cost of hiring lawyers

These two are the basic statement of the Union Home Minister, which has created a complete flutter in Assam, and the rest of India.

The statement of Shah was flawless, and he made no mistake anywhere. But next morning the headline screamed in Assam in a manner that all the 48 months efforts went in vain and it would be all over again.

Was it real?

No, Shah instead upheld the existing NRC and dashed the plea of Assam Government and State BJP for rejection of the NRC altogether. He instead advised the 'NRC excluded Indians" to approach Foreigner Tribunal and assured legal service and legal expense to be covered by Assam Government.

This killed all the argument seeking complete scrapping of the Assam NRC done at the cost of Rs 1500 crores.

In fact, two broad groups are trying desperately to milk the situation with carefully crafted confusion.

The All Assam Student Union (AASU) leads the first group. They are all at sea of late as being pilloried by rival Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS), the BJP and then AGP, who launched their own student wing.

This group wants complete re-verification of the NRC but do not want to reject it. " We want remedial measures," said the AASU adviser Dr Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharya.

The other block is led by BJP, which wants the whole NRC to be scrapped and done it again. According to them, the entire NRC process was faulty.

All of them feel that 19-lakh exclusion from the NRC was far less and could not be accepted because it did not meet their figures of 40 lakhs.

Now if you try to find the source behind 40 lakhs, it was quite apparent that whole narrative of foreigners in Assam was built on false paradigms and statistically, it could not be backed in a neutral debate.

Anyway, the popular '40 lakh Bangladeshi figure" emanated from a memorandum submitted former AASU president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta way back in February 1980.

Post-Assam Accord, the imaginary 50 lakh became 40 lakh as the intelligentsia of Assam coolly subtracted 10 lakh as 1971 became the cut off the year and went on to build a new narrative.

However, all the available data showed that there was a decline of Assam population in all post-1971 census, which instead challenge the very notion of post-1971 migration of Bangladeshi to Assam.

But Amit Shah put cold water on the BJP and Assam Government's plea of rejection. He instead asked all the NRC excluded people to approach the Foreigner Tribunals and assured that the Government would give money to fight the legal fight.

This means the NRC list stays and all work to be done with that list only. This is bad news for Assam BJP, which wants complete scrapping.

Shah was right. He instead heeded what former Chief Justice of India(CJI) Ranjan Gogoi said in the book release function of this writer.

The Chief Justice Gogoi had said, the NRC, as it will finally emerge, is not a document of the moment – "19 lakhs or 40 lakhs is not the point. It is a base document for the future – kind of a reference document to determine future claims. This is its intrinsic value, in my comprehension".

Shah also did the same. He agreed that NRC 2019 was a base document and it could be improved upon in the countrywide updation.

Muslims of Assam should be happy with this, but the BJP and its Bhakts successfully created a cloud of confusion, giving an impression in media that a new NRC was coming.

Media too gladly bought it, adding some twist to it.

AASU adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya said that the NRC was updated as per Assam Accord
AASU adviser Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharyya said that the NRC was updated as per Assam Accord
EastMojo image

Assam Government twist

The man who gave the twist was Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. He said that the State government had requested the Centre to reject the recently published National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the current form.

Confronted whether it was a mere casual statement of a minister or a Cabinet Resolution of Government of Assam, Dr Sharma cleverly said that there had been no formal or written communication on the matter.

This had made the whole thing very suspicious, and Mr Sarma was known to use gullible media to drive home his point through cryptic answers. He was successful.

"Assam state Bharatiya Janata Party and Assam government opined that the NRC, which was prepared under the supervision of the Supreme Court and by the state coordinator Prateek Hajela in Assam, has failed to fulfil the aspiration of the people of Assam. There were many gaps and spaces, and we have already pointed out in public and various forums. Various social organisations of Assam have already filed petitions before the Supreme Court seeking a review of the present process. The present NRC process should be scrapped. We should be a part of the national NRC process. When the national NRC is prepared, Assam should be made part it," Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

Himanta Biswa Sarma said that there couldn't be two cut-offs.

“I think across India there will be a cut off the year and Assam should be part of that. It may be 1961, 1966 or 1971. I think if there is a cut off for the country that will be good. Because, in the same country, you can’t have two cuts offs,” Himanta Biswa Sarma added.

"I think across India there will be a cut off the year and Assam should be part of that. It may be 1961, 1966 or 1971. I think if there is a cut off for the country that will be good. Because, in the same country, you can't have two cuts offs," Himanta Biswa Sarma added.

What he did not say that it was his government, which was pressing for two cut off dates and filed an affidavit in support of 1971 as cut off the year in the Asom Moha Sabha case.

"We are not satisfied or unsatisfied with the number [19 lakh people who were left out from the final NRC]. We are concerned about the flow, the way the state coordinator has run the show, and the way the state coordinator kept aside the government from the entire process. The people of the rest of the country don't know that Prateek Hajela is a different character and Assam government is a different entity. One single individual has created NRC in Assam, the justice has not been done to any quarter," Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

Assam Public Works president, Abhijeet Sarma holding a placard expressing displeasure over final NRC in Assam.
Assam Public Works president, Abhijeet Sarma holding a placard expressing displeasure over final NRC in Assam.
EastMojo Image 

But Mr Amit Shah's statement should not satisfy Mr Sharma as the former never said anything of scrapping the NRC rather upheld it by urging people to approach Foreigner Tribunal if there was any.

That is why senior lawyer Upamanyu Hazarika is so harsh in his statement on Mr Sharma.

"The Citizenship Amendment Bill to be introduced and passed in Parliament next week is the over-riding priority and not the interests of the indigenous people as no concrete steps have been spelt out by Dr Sarma for a straight cutoff year. Religious minorities from neighbouring countries will get citizenship in India and Assam consequently and to assuage the sentiments or forestall any protests from the indigenous people, yet another promise of NRC to divert the attention of the people," he said.

The NRC Data in Assam has already been compiled both on a 1951 and 1971 cut off year basis and even today the present NRC which is on 1971 basis can be easily converted to a 1951 as the data has already been compiled and is available.

What NRC in Assam needs is a re-verification particularly in the migrant dominated and border districts and which is an exercise, which the Government can carry out on its own, but not doing?

Assam Government is sitting tight. Legally they do not need anybody's permission for re-verification. But they are not interested. They are interested like all others to milk the cow as much.

Data says a different figure

When once again the narrative is sought to be built around 1951 vs. 1971 debate, here are some bare facts

1. In any event, whether the cut off date is 1951 or 1971 will not make a significant difference.

2. Because any foreigner entering into Assam after 1951 who gave birth to multiple generations of children all of them virtually up to December 2004 will get citizenship by birth, even though the post-1951 migrant was identified a foreigner.

3. Unless the cut off date for the grant of citizenship by birth is also shifted from 3rd December 2004 to 1951, it will not make any material difference.

4. Remember, an infant who entered illegally to India in 1951 in the arms of his or her mother is a 68-year-old man or women today.

5. That infant did not come; the mother carried him or her across. This is going to open a vast international debate.

6. Now read this.

Population Growth from 1951 onwards

Table showing the population growth of Assam and India as whole from 1951
Table showing the population growth of Assam and India as whole from 1951
Eastmojo image 

1. It clearly shows that between 1951-1961 there were 10.7 lakh excess people in Assam assuming India growth rate to be correct. Similarly, in the next decade, there were 11-lakh excess populations.

2. This excess of 21.7-lakh populations was evidently from East Pakistan and that infiltration triggered Assam Agitation in 1979.

Now read this

Table showing the population growth of Assam and India as whole from 1971
Table showing the population growth of Assam and India as whole from 1971
Eastmojo image 

Which means that there is no excess population but negative growth of people in this period. The hard take ways

1. Statistically, one cannot prove that there was large-scale illegal migration after 1971 to Assam.

2. Pre 1971 Census of Assam said that there was 21.71 lakh excess people.

3. NRC excluded 19.6 lakh people.

4. The figure is surprisingly close.

But Assam lives in inter-subjective reality, and no one is going too ready to listen to these statistics based arguments. Inside Assam, these arguments have no values also. But step outside Assam, the emotional debate on infiltration cannot withstand the hard scrutiny.

If minister Sarma and chief minister Sonowal are really sincere about protecting their own people, then they can in one sitting of the State Assembly reserve land, employment, trade licenses and seats in higher educational institutions only for those who were citizens prior to 1951 as a first step and thereafter have political reservation for indigenous communities, but on which they maintain a deafening silence.

(The author is a senior journalist and writer. Views expressed are his own. He can be contacted at mrinal.talukdar@gmail.com)