NRC ‘complete draft’ in Assam creates a storm

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By Harvinder Ahuja

Need of the hour: Restraint  

With less than 10 months left for the next general elections, another explosive issue has popped up in national discourse, and it suits the present dispensation at the Centre pretty well. The exclusion of 40,07,707 people in Assam from the  National Register of Citizens (NRC) has created a huge storm and while there is understandable fear and uncertainty on the ground, both the ruling party and the Opposition are prematurely taking extreme positions.

Reports about people and families being left out of the NRC are being splashed in the media and concerns are being expressed as to what will be the fate of these ‘stateless’ people. According to the reports, families have been split, siblings excluded, twins separated and a large number of childrenare missing in the draft released by NRC on July 31. There are also reports about former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s family and a former V-C of Assam University not finding their names in the list. Interestingly enough, a Field Level Officer, who was deployed to help and compile names for the NRC, is among the 40 lakh people whose names are missing.

While all these anecdotal reports are serious enough, one should not forget that there is ample scope for administrative lapse in such a humungous exercise. There certainly is scope for inefficiency, negligence and even corruption and biases. More importantly, it is only a draft which has been released and the four million who have been left out don’t automatically cease to be the citizens of India. The present list is open to revision and there are sufficient provisions for submitting more papers, moving tribunals or courts and getting oneself included.

That is why the reaction of various political parties seems rather exaggerated and even alarmist. In this regard, BJP President Amit Shah’s statement that NRC would weed out all ‘ghuspethiye’ (infiltrators) in Assam is, perhaps, most unfortunate. He and his party are,no doubt,aware that exclusion from the present list doesn’t automatically make a person ‘illegal immigrant’ and, therefore, one is bound to question the motives behind such vicious remarks.

Worse still, some state BJP chiefs have started a chorus for the need to conduct ‘Assam-like exercise’ in Delhi, UP and, maybe, other states as well. This is clearly intended to instill fear among the minorities and further vitiate the atmosphere. The social fabric of the country has been badly dented ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre and the remarks like these are bound to damage it further. The BJP leaders might think that a polarised nation will benefit them in 2019 elections but they must also realise that it is dangerous for the country on the whole.

In the prevailing surcharged atmosphere,whena person can be lynched on the mere suspicion of being an ‘alien’ (because of cast, colour or religion), imagine the plight of those officially certified as outsiders. That’s the kind of volatile atmosphere which Assam is struggling with currently after the publication of the draft NRC list. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon all political parties to behave, and speak, more responsibly.

The statement of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is relevant in this context. Responding to the release of NRC data in Assam, she warned of “civil war” and “bloodbath” if such a large number of people are stripped of their citizenship. The political import of TMC chief’s intemperate remarks cannot be missed by anyone. The lady is nourishing national ambitions and she and her party won’t miss any opportunity to strengthen her credentials as the tallest leader among the Opposition. Surely, no one grudges that but in sensitive matters like these she is expected to exercise restraint.

Moreover, Mamata is forgetting that she herself had vigorously flagged the ‘illegal immigrants’ issue in Parliament in 2005. Of course, the political dynamics were quite different at that time and today, perhaps, it suits her to “fight” for their “cause”. But in the process she, and here party, must not gloss over national interest.

Like Mamata, the Congress and the other opposition parties have also lambasted the Assam exercise, though not in such harsh terms. The Congress has been critical of the way the whole exercise has been conducted and has accused the Government of adopting a partisan approach. The regional parties too have come out with responses which are overtly laced with political undertones.

The Opposition, particularly the Congress, must remember that identification of ‘illegal immigrants’ is a long-pending issue which emanated from the accord signed in 1985 by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with the leaders of the Assam students’ movement. The ongoing NRC exercise is being conducted at the behest of the Supreme Court, which is monitoring it as well.

The Opposition, as also the BJP leaders, would do well to read the latest statement of Prateek Hajela, the SC-appointed NRC coordinator. In an interview to a national daily, he reiterated that 40,07,707 people left out of the “complete draft” cannot be dubbed as illegal immigrants and termed descriptions like ‘ghuspethiye’ as “too premature”.

(The author is Delhi based Consulting Editor of Kashmir Age and can be reached at: harrysnigi@gmail.com)