The issue of Bangladeshis has taken the centre-stage in Assam with assembly elections less than a year away. This time, it is revolving around an elaborate exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951, perceived to end the problem of illegal migrants.
Assam and other north-eastern states have been paranoid about being swamped by Bengali-speaking migrant Muslims or ‘Bangladeshis’ from 1979.
The population of Muslims in Assam is believed to have increased substantially by over 31% in 2001. Most of them are Bengali-speaking, who are decisive voters in at least six of the 14 parliamentary and 45 of the 126 assembly constituencies in the state.
The Congress, ruling the state since 2001 and accused of being pro-Bangladeshis, held sway over these constituencies until perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal floated the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in 2005. They bagged three seats each in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls while the BJP won seven.
The NRC updating exercise undertaken earlier this year has seemingly deepened the polarisation. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi added to the controversy by proposing that the NRC be updated on the basis of the latest (2014) electoral rolls.
The BJP and organisations such as All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), batting for indigenous groups, said this was a populist move aimed at helping the beleaguered Congress garner minority votes. Assam governor PB Acharya, a former RSS functionary, said “The voters’ list of 2014 cannot be the basis of updating NRC because people believe many foreigners figure in it.”
Gogoi, who has been resenting Acharya’s “interference” in the functioning of his government, hit back, saying,“The voters’ list is prepared by the Election Commission, which says it is a valid one consisting of names of Indian citizens only.”
According to NRC commissioner-secretary Prateek Hajela, the latest IT tools will keep people with doubtful citizenship out. “All those who have their names, or a family or parental link, in electoral rolls from 1952 to 1971, are believed to be genuine Indian citizens,” he said.