The NRC must reflect the sentiments of the locals in Assam—any dilution of it will defeat the purpose of the exercise.
The much-anticipated final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on August 31. It excluded more than 19 lakh people of the state - though they would not be called stateless until and unless decided by the Foreigners' Tribunals (FTs). The process, which was expected to see closure after the final list, now seems to continue further with many local organisations expressing unhappiness and deciding to appeal the Supreme Court for re-verification of documents. Also, many NGOs, intellectuals and sections of the media, particularly foreign media, have questioned the idea of NRC itself given the large scale of the process.
However, one must not forget that the NRC is based on the 1985 Assam Accord signed between the Rajiv Gandhi government and the All Assam Students’ Union and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad to ensure the rights of locals in Assam — which has been facing the influx of immigration from Bangladesh (earlier East Pakistan). The worries of the locals are justified as no community would like to be reduced to a minority in its own land.
Many concerns regarding the final list need to be addressed.
First, the figures are low, and this is expected to further go down as clerical errors have deleted many names. Also, many Hindu refugees who came before March 24, 1971 (the cut-off date for NRC registration) failed to include their names as refugee certificates issued to them were excluded in the verification process. The FTs are likely to consider these cases for citizenship.
So, the final figure is expected to go down to less than 10 lakhs.
In addition to this, exclusion is higher in areas such as Karbi Anglong, a sixth schedule district inhabited by tribals, when compared to the border districts such as Goalmara, Dubri, Hailakandi and Karimganj. This has made many question the veracity of the list, as they doubt that the August 31st list has included many foreigners.
Second, the government has to ensure that more FTs are functional for quicker resolution of disputes over citizenship status. To this effect the government has announced setting up more than 200 FTs to the existing 100. Of the 4 million excluded from last year’s list, around 400,000 haven’t filed NRC claims. The genuine citizens among them must be assisted and required measures must be taken against the foreigners.
The third concern is a tricky one, but no less important. Till date the dispensation does not have a clear policy on foreigners. India also does not have a repatriation treaty with Bangladesh. As per the rules of the Assam government, a foreigner who has completed over three years in detention centres can be released on certain conditions. This would mean that all those identified as foreigners now will be free after a certain period! They can’t be housed in detention centres sine die, nor can they be deported. The stateless citizens cannot be punished because their rights too must be respected.
Finally, there are concerns of vote-bank politics. The NRC has been a victim of vote-bank politics as the Congress and AGP governments have put this issue on the back burner. The Congress in particular is accused of encouraging Muslim immigrants to Assam to suit its political goals. Now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is itself being viewed with suspicion as there is anxiety over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which assures of providing citizenships to non-Muslim refugees who have settled in Assam after March 24, 1971. This could nullify the purpose behind the NRC process.
A democracy must address the concerns of all its citizens — that of the majority and that of the minorities. The NRC was a promise made to the locals of Assam. It must be implemented keeping in view the interests of the state, which once witnessed separatism based on Assamese nationalism. A failure to do so will only reduce the faith in democracy among the locals.Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance contributor. Twitter: @SagarnelSinha. Views are personal.Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.