National Register of Citizenship (NRC) has started haunting a large number of people across the country. While it was meant to address a localized problem of Bangladeshi infiltrators in Assam, the BJP Government is trying to expand its scope to every region across the country. Unfathomable, as it sounds, but the ruling party at the Center has expressed its intent to carry out the exercise throughout the country.
Amazingly, while trying to conduct the NRC in other areas of the country, Home Minister, Amit Shah, has rejected the NRC that was carried out in Assam at huge human and financial cost. The heart-wrenching stories of poor people repeatedly traversing length and breadth of the state, merely to appear before the concerned officials and prove their citizenship have made it to national and international media. Dozens of people, who failed to find their names or whose names were erroneously misspelt have committed suicide, adding to the agonies of their kith and kin.
What Amit Shah said
Home Minister, Amit Shah, while addressing a public rally in West Singhbhum in Jharkhand ahead of the Assembly elections, claimed that the BJP government at the center will ensure the expulsion of all infiltrators in the country before 2024, when the next Lok Sabha elections are expected to be held. Earlier the Home Minister had described the illegal immigrants as termites.
He tried to assuage the feeling of the international media saying that the NRC was not anti-Muslim in nature. "NRC has no such provision which says that certain religions will be excluded from it. All citizens of India irrespective of religion will figure in the NRC list. The NRC is different from Citizenship Amendment Bill," the Home Minister later told Rajya Sabha. He further said that "The process of NRC will be carried out across the country. No one, irrespective of religion should be worried, it is just a process to get everyone under the NRC."
While the ministers in the Union Government may say whatever they want, but undertone of the announcement and the communal rhetoric accompanying the talk of implementation of NRC suggest that it has been tweaked in a way where it is nothing more than one more instrument to trouble the Muslims community.
NRC fiasco in Assam
After the NRC fiasco in Assam where the number of alleged Muslim infiltrators was claimed to be in excess of 50 lakh Bangladeshis, what has come out is rather unbelievable for the people behind the demand for its implementation. Out of more than 19 lakh people who have been left out of the NRC, just around 6 lakh are Muslims, the rest being Hindus, tribals, Gorkhas and others. The ratio of Muslims left out of the NRC in Assam is very close to their ratio in the population. Most people left out of the NRC are the ones who will eventually be able to wade their way into the NRC sooner than later given the fact that in most cases there are minor spelling errors in the names of these people, their parents or in their legacy data. The updated final NRC has left out over 19 lakh applicants in Assam.
Huge financial, human cost
However, while these people may be able to prove their Indian citizenship, who will compensate them for the horror they suffered over the last couple of years in trying to prove their citizenship. The long process, often puts many people to extreme strain. Many people who, following the unprecedented floods in this year’s monsoon, were expected to take care of their livestock and dilapidated homes, that are often no more than shanties, were forced to appear before the NRC authorities instead of rebuilding their flood ravaged houses. This year the biggest question before them during the monsoon was not just to protect them, their children or their homes and livestock, but their documents that could prove their Indian citizenship.
While the government says that the cost of NRC was around Rs 1,600, the actual cost of the exercise must be much more because the full expense — including, but not limited to detention camps to house and care for the aliens — hasn’t been totted up. The state government in Assam is building huge detention camps at massive costs that make the actual cost to be much more.
It is rather very surprising as to why the BJP government in Assam, and at the Center too, is rejecting the NRC exercise in Assam that was carried at such high human and financial cost. Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma while rejecting the Assam NRC said, "There should be one cut off year for the national NRC." This means that the BJP government has given a quite burial to the exercise across the North Eastern state. He went on to add, "Assam state BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and Assam government opined that the NRC, which was prepared under the supervision of the Supreme Court and by the state coordinator Prateek Hajela in Assam, has failed to fulfill the aspiration of the people of Assam. There were many gaps and spaces and we have already pointed out in public and various forums. Various social organisations of Assam have already filed petitions before the Supreme Court seeking review of the present process. The present NRC process should be scrapped. We should be a part of the national NRC process. When the national NRC will be prepared, Assam should be made part it”.
Opposition to national NRC building up
In the meantime, the opposition to the national level NRC is building up. Congress party has expressed its opposition to the move. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, has clearly said that she is opposed to any such move and that she will not allow its implementation in her state. While speaking at a public meet, Mamata said, “A few people are trying to foment trouble in the state by saying that NRC exercise will be carried out in Bengal. I would like to make it very clear that we will never allow the NRC exercise in Bengal. We won't allow anybody to divide people on the basis of religion”. The willy politicians also tried to put the BJP on the mat by seeking clarification why the names of 14 lakh Hindus and Bengalis were left out of the final NRC brought out in Assam.
Meanwhile, Bhim Army Chief and a rising Dalit voice in Uttar Pradesh, Chandra Shekhar Azad too has expressed his displeasure over the planned exercise. "The main conspiracy behind NRC is to deprive our people of their constitutional rights. The government wants to destroy a particular community; we will never let them achieve this. We stand by our Bahujan community". Hashtags like #RejectNRC and #IndiaRejectsNRC have been top trends in India over the past one week. While many people are doubtful if BJP government will actually undertake such costly misadventure, the longtime observers of the saffron outfit believe it may launch it before the announcement of next general elections.
(Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His latest book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Silk Letter Movement (Reshmi Rumal Tehrik)' has just been released
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a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October