How the 2008 Assam bombings and a meeting set the NRC ball rolling
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How the 2008 Assam bombings and a meeting set the NRC ball rolling

Businessman Aabhijeet Sharma became the face of the fight for updating NRC, shuttling between Guwahati and New Delhi for hearings of the petition, while the media-shy Bhuyans stayed in the background.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2018 21:31 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Assam NRC,National Register of Citizens,Assam Public Works
The petition filed in the Supreme Court was drafted by Pradip Kumar Bhuyan, an engineer who passed out of IIT-Kharagpur in 1956.(Handout)

On October 30, 2008, serial bombings carried out by the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) at Guwahati, Barpeta Road, Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar in Assam killed 81 people and injured over 400 others.

The same evening, Aabhijeet Sharma, president of Assam Public Works (APW), a Guwahati-based NGO, met Pradip Kumar Bhuyan and his wife Bonti Bhuyan, an elderly couple, in Guwahati to discuss the situation in the state.

“We all cried at the happenings in Assam and decided to do something. That meeting was the genesis of the fight against illegal immigrants,” said Sharma.

In July 2009, the Supreme Court accepted a petition filed by APW which stated that 41 lakh illegal migrants had been included in the voters list of 2006 and sought directions to strike their names from electoral rolls.

“Updating the NRC of 1951 to weed out illegal immigrants was part of the Assam Accord signed in 1985 after a six year agitation against foreigners. But due to vote bank politics successive governments didn’t do anything in this regard,” said Sharma.

In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to start work on updating the NRC. It set the ball rolling and on Monday the complete updated draft NRC was released. Of the 3.29 crore applicants in the state, 2.89 crore were included in the list and 40 lakhs left out.

Not many within Assam know that the petition that started the NRC updating process was drafted by Pradip Kumar Bhuyan, an engineer who passed out of from the IIT-Kharagpur in 1956.

“When we contacted Arvind Kumar Sharma, an advocate in Delhi, to represent us, he was surprised at how well the petition had been drafted. He wanted to know if a lawyer had prepared it,” said Sharma.

Senior journalist Mrinal Talukdar who has been covering the NRC issue for many years and taking it up as the subject for his next book also recalled contribution of the Bhuyan couple.

“I have seen how they have contributed their time, money and effort towards finding a solution to the long pending foreigners issue in Assam. They realized the battle could be won only by going to court and not through agitations. People of Assam should realize their contribution,” he said.

While Sharma, a 44-year-businessman, became the public face of the fight for updating NRC and kept shuttling between Guwahati and New Delhi for hearings of the petition.

The media-shy Bhuyan couple stayed in the background. Eighty three-year old Pradip Bhuyan is an industrialist, academician and crusader while his wife Bonti (76) is one of the main trustees of one of the best private schools in the northeast region.

“It would be wrong to quantify the amounts they spent on the NRC legal battle. But one can easily calculate the costs of pursuing a case in SC for nearly 10 years that involves travel, stay in Delhi and other legal costs,” Talukdar said.

Despite repeated attempts both Pradip Bhuyan and his wife Bonti refused to talk and give their views.

“They are extremely private people. Bonti ‘borma’ (elder mother) is scolding me for revealing their roles in our fight. I tell her, it’s our ‘guru dakshina’ (repayment to teacher/guide) to them,” said Sharma.

Besides Sharma, who runs a housekeeping and catering company, several other people are involved in the legal battle for NRC. They all ‘contribute’ four days of their time every month to carry forward the work.

“Illegal immigrants have flooded Assam. Publication of the complete draft is only a step in the process. We want names of all foreigners removed from electoral rolls. I want my 13-year-old daughter to live in a safe Assam without fear of foreigners,” said Sharma.

Meanwhile, the legal fight for NRC continues. On August 16, the Centre will submit to the apex court modalities for submission of claims by those left out of the complete NRC draft. Several other NRC related petitions are also pending in Supreme Court.

First Published: Aug 02, 2018 19:49 IST