Doubts remain amid political blame game
The publication of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) on Saturday, it had been expected, would finally put a lid on the decades-long political debate around illegal immigration in Assam.
But two days before the NRC is released,questions were still being raised about the credibility of the exercise amid squabbling between major political parties in the northeastern state.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the updated citizens’ list may not be error-free. “Persons declared foreigners are involved in the NRC updating process while people who were part of the Assam Agitation and even the Independence movement have got excluded. So how can we be satisfied with such a list?” questioned Assam BJP chief Ranjeet Dass.
Dass said instructions had been issued to the party’s four million members in the state to seek out “genuine Indians” left out of the final NRC and help them file appeals against their exclusion.
The NRC is being updated for the first time since 1951 after decades of churn in the state over illegal immigration from the bordering nation of Bangladesh, which also triggered the 1979-1985 Assam Agitation that caused 855 deaths and ended with the signing of the Assam Accord, which set March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for citizenship in Assam.
The BJP’s apprehension stems from a document read out in the state assembly by parliamentary affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary earlier this month, which showed that rates of exclusion in many districts bordering Bangladesh are far lower than the state average.
For example, while 12.5% was the average rate for the state, in the border districts of South Salmara, Karimganj and Dhubri, the rates were 7.22%, 7.57% and 8.26% respectively.
“But the rate of exclusion in districts like Karbi Anglong (14.31%) and Tinsukia (13.25%) where indigenous people have resided for centuries is higher,” Patowary added.
The state government’s appeal for reverification has been turned down by the Supreme Court, but chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has indicated “legislative measures” to correct any anomalies in the final NRC.
The BJP’s stand has given a handle to the Opposition, which allege that the ruling party is not serious about tackling illegal immigrants after coming to power on a platform that included, among others, a promise to weed out aliens and empower local communities.
“We are surprised at statements of BJP leaders ahead of the final list. Instead of closing the foreigners issue with publication of an error-free NRC, they want to keep it alive for electoral benefits,” said Aminul Islam, general secretary of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
“There could be minor errors, but we have full faith in the process monitored by Supreme Court,” he added.
Congress state president Ripun Bora accused BJP leaders of spreading misinformation and urged the state government to take action against them.
All Assam Students Union (AASU), the state’s biggest student body which led the 1979-1985 Assam Agitation against foreigners, also accused the BJP of pushing its political agenda.
“Earlier BJP used to blame Congress for appeasing Muslims for vote-bank politics. Now they are doing the same with Hindus. We should respect the NRC process, which is being monitored by SC, but instead of a permanent solution, BJP wants to keep the foreigners issue alive,” said AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi.
Senior journalist Samudra Gupta Kashyap blamed political parties for looking at petty gains when the final NRC list is to be released while initially all parties had arrived at a consensus that updating the 1951 NRC was the best option to address the foreigners issue.
“Most parties now realize that NRC can’t be manipulated as it has been prepared on basis on Assam Accord and as per law hence they are trying find faults with the process. Some of these parties are responsible for infiltration of illegal immigrants and facilitating procurement of various documents for them,” he said.