Congress, AASU against scrapping of Assam NRC, confusion reigns in state

The BJP wants to keep the NRC issue simmering in order to further its agenda of polarisation along religious lines, said Assam’s Opposition leader Debabrata Saikia

Congress, AASU against scrapping of Assam NRC, confusion reigns in state
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Ashlin Mathew

Stirring the failed NRC process again, the home minister Amit Shah announced in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that a National Citizens Register (NRC) process will be carried out all across the country and at that time the process would be done once again in Assam too.

Unmindful, perhaps, of the fact that the process had put the entire population of Assam (more than 3.09 crore) under distress, Shah said the NRC is "just a process" to get everyone under the citizen's list. This comes even as a federal US commission on international religious freedom has alleged that the NRC in Assam is a tool to "target religious minorities and to render Muslims stateless".

Hours later Assam Finance Minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma had said, “The state government cannot accept this NRC. People who should not have been included in the list have made it.”

This has raised the hackles of everyone in Assam including that of All Assam Students’ Union, which had spearheaded the movement in the 1980s and is a signatory to the 1985 document that provided for "detection, deletion and deportation" of illegal foreigners from Assam.

The AASU leaders were upset that Sarma had rejected the Assam NRC. “The AASU has not rejected the updated NRC. We want that the updated citizens’ register must be only re-examined and rectified. WE have gone to the Supreme Court and the hearing is on November 26. The current CJI SA Bobde will hear it,” stressed Dipankar Nath, the president of AASU.

“Who gave Himanta Biswa Sarma the right to reject the NRC? Who has taken the decision in this regard? And on what capacity has he rejected the updated NRC. It was the Supreme Court which ordered the process. Sarma is simply politicising the issue,” underscored Nath.

The AASU president pointed out, “It was only in Assam that the NRC was first carried out way back in 1951. The present updation of the NRC is based on the 1951 NRC and the electoral roll up to 1971. So the NRC exercise in Assam is definitely different in comparison to the other States of the country where no NRC has ever been carried out.”

Slamming the BJP for its decision to restart the NRC, Opposition leader in the Assam Legislative Assembly Debabrata Saikia said, “The BJP wants to keep the NRC issue simmering in order to further its agenda of polarisation along religious lines. The party wants to use the nation-wide NRC as its new weapon for the political polarisation. They want people to forget real issues of unemployment, economic distress and poverty. Once this happens, people will all be working to ensure they are citizens of the country.”

Outlining the BJP’s political agenda, Saikia underscored that the Modi government wants to carry out the NRC process without supervision of the Supreme Court so that a section of genuine citizens from the religious minority community can be excluded and a section of illegal migrants from the linguistic minority community can be inducted in the NRC.

“They will keep raising this issue. Ahead of the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan elections, the government said there were 40 lakh “ghuspetia” (the BJP’s dog whistle for illegal Muslim immigrants), but after the process it has become clear that there are only 19 lakh and many of them in that are also genuine citizens. So, the number will reduce drastically. This does not suit their purposes,” explained Saikia.

The Opposition leader has also urged the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) to strongly oppose the latest move of the Modi government. “The NRC has been updated on the basis of the cut-off deadline of 1971 stipulated in the Assam Accord of 1985, to which the AASU was a signatory. If the main provision of the Assam Accord is thrown to the winds by the Modi government, then the six-year-long Assam Movement and the martyrdom of 855 persons will become meaningless. Even the current BJP CM Sarbananda Sonowal was a part of AASU and the protests then,” pointed out Saikia.

Reiterating BJP’s stand, its state spokesperson Rupam Goswami said, “A new NRC is obviously being done. There cannot be two kinds of NRC for the country. If two brothers came from Bangladesh in 1960s and one entered through Assam and the other through Bengal, then Bengal person will not get citizenship, but the Assam person will get it. Is this fair? For a country, the cut-off date must be the same. Is Assam in a separate country?”

According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, every person born in India on or after the January 26, 1950, but before the July 1, 1987, is a citizen of India. The Act also states that if a person is born on or after the July 1, 1987, but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth is also a citizen of the country.

However, Goswami differed. He insisted that the cut-off date for the rest of the country was 1951 and so that would remain the cut-off date for the country, including Assam. When asked what will happen to the Assam Accord, he refused to elaborate stating that he did not want to speak on political matters. “You people think that Assam is not in India; don’t think like that,” asserted Goswami. When it was pointed out that if the date becomes 1951, which is the cut-off date according to him, several more people will be left out, he refused to comment.

Elaborating on the confusion in Assam, human rights lawyer Aman Wadud said, “There is no clarity what will happen to current NRC. HM also said people excluded will be given free legal aid. If current NRC is scrapped, why should excluded people file appeal? There is a lot of ambiguity.”

Wadud said that the BJP will find it difficult to enforce the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Assam and other North eastern states, hence the home minister has raised the bogey of the new NRC. “I also think because final outcome of the NRC hasn’t helped the politics of BJP, they want to do it again,” added Wadud.

The process to update the register in Assam began following a Supreme Court order in 2013, with the state's nearly 33 million people having to prove that they were Indian nationals prior to March 24, 1971. The updated final NRC was released on August 31, with over 1.9 million applicants failing to make it to the list.

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Published: 21 Nov 2019, 5:20 PM
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