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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Politics, ‘data leak’, delays: Controversies surrounding Assam NRC

The NRC exercise in Assam has come under fire for the process of identification of illegal immigrants in the state and has become a contentious issue in the state politics

india Updated: Aug 31, 2019 09:58 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The National register of Citizens (NRC) is aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants in Assam.
The National register of Citizens (NRC) is aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants in Assam.(ANI)
         

The final list of National Register of Citizens (NRC), aimed at identifying illegal immigrants in Assam that borders Bangladesh, will be out on Saturday (August 31).

The Supreme Court-monitored NRC exercise was carried out only in Assam, which faced influx of people from Bangladesh for decades. The process of identification of illegal immigrants in the state has been widely debated and become a contentious issue in the state politics.

Here’s a look at issues which marred the process to update the register:

Political agenda

All Assam Students Union (AASU), the state’s biggest student body, has accused the BJP of pushing its political agenda instead of greater good of Assamese people. AASU had led the 1979-1985 Assam Agitation against foreigners that saw 855 deaths and culminated in signing of the Assam Accord.

“Earlier BJP used to blame Congress of 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, the BJP wants to keep the foreigners issue alive,” said AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi.

All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has also questioned the BJP’s motives.

“We are surprised at the 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,” AIUDF general secretary Aminul Islam said.

Congress state president Ripun Bora accused BJP leaders of spreading misinformation even before publication of the final NRC and urged the Sonowal government to take action against them.

Credibility

Political parties, especially the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam, have questioned the list’s credibility saying it might not be error-free.

“Persons declared foreigners are involved in the NRC updating process while people who were part of Assam agitation and even the Independence movement have got excluded (from the drafts released earlier). So how can we be satisfied with such a list?” questioned Assam BJP chief Ranjeet Dass earlier this week.

The BJP is upset with alleged exclusions of ‘genuine Indian citizens’ and inclusion of ‘foreigners’ in the list.

Push for CAB

Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has indicated that his government might adopt legislative measures to correct “anomalies” in the final NRC after it is published. While he didn’t specify the measures, it is speculated that it could mean the Centre could once again bring in the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament. The bill had earlier lapsed in February this year after it failed to make it to the Rajya Sabha.

If passed, the bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, could pave the way for Hindus from Bangladesh who came to India after March 24, 1971 (the cut-off date for NRC) to get included in NRC.

Opposition parties think BJP, which had earlier made claims to throwing out illegal immigrants if it came to power, is not serious about doing that and is trying to prolong the issue for political gain.

A case of missing people

NRC in Assam became a raging controversy in West Bengal after nearly 4 million people, predominantly Hindu Bengalis, found their names missing in the final draft released in July last year.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had claimed that the NRC exercise was carried out with a “political motive” to divide people and warned that it would lead to “bloodbath” and a “civil war” in the country.

Banerjee had also said those “Indian citizens have become refugees in their own land”. Banerjee alleged the NRC was an “attempt to evict the Bengalis from Assam”.

‘Data leak’

The Congress had accused the Assam government of contempt of a Supreme Court order after detailed figures of the district wise break-up of NRC draft inclusions and exclusions was released by a cabinet minister in the state assembly. Leader of Opposition in state assembly Debabrata Saikia had questioned how the state government got access to the figures.

In the order, the SC had said confidential reports submitted by NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela should remain in the custody of court owing to sensitive nature of information in those reports which may affect the exercise. It directed Hajela not to share any information pertaining to NRC with “executive, legislature of judicial authority of the state without leave of the court.” The district wise inclusion and exclusion figures were submitted to the court in August 2018 in a sealed cover.

‘Should put you in jail’

The Supreme Court had threatened to send the NRC coordinator and registrar general of India to jail for contempt and restrained them from speaking on the politically charged issue to the media without its approval.

A bench of justice Ranjan Gogoi and justice RF Nariman said the statements made by NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela and registrar general Sailesh on the issue of dealing with claims and objections of those who have been left out in the draft NRC were “most unfortunate”.

“We should be holding both of you guilty of contempt and sending both of you to jail. Whatever you say they all reflect on us,” the top court, which is monitoring the NRC, said.

“Your job is not to go to press holding the brief for somebody,” the bench said.

Exclusion of army, BSF officials

The names of several serving and retired defence and Border Security Force personnel from Assam were among the 40 lakh people missing from the controversial document. The Supreme Court had even asked the NRC coordinator to ensure that a fair procedure is adopted in dealing with the claims and objections filed by those excluded from the list.

Delays

Both the Assam government and the Centre have been at the receiving end of the Supreme Court’s ire over delays in publishing of the NRC as well as identification and deportation of foreigners from the state.