After dilly dallying, delays and occasions when it looked that National Registry of Population (NRC) will be delayed, it has been completed in Assam. Unlike the wild claims of many people, who said there would be around ten million or even more aliens in the state, the final draft showed merely 19 lakh people whose citizenship is found to be suspect. For the next few months, these people will be allowed to fight their cases and human rights groups working on the ground suggest that most of the people will be able to be included in the NRC due to the fact that they were excluded on minor issues including spelling differences in their names or the names of their parents.
This came as a huge shock to many among the Saffron camps as they had tried to extrapolate the number of illegal Muslim immigrants in Assam. What was all the more shocking for these people was the huge number of Hindus whose names did not appear in the NRC. If the rough estimates are to be believed, around 6.5 lakh people excluded from the NRC were Muslims, while the rest were Bengali Hindus and Gorkhas.
Following the picture that emerged from this entire exercise, many sane people thought that the shrieks to extend the NRC across the country will die down and that some sanity will prevail. However, they seem to be mistaken as instead of dying down, the claims for the demand for the NRC has come from many states, all from the BJP and Sangh supporters.
Amit Shah’s claims on NRC
While the BJP leaders including the BJP President and Home Minister, Amit Shah, while canvassing during the Lok Sabha elections 2019, repeatedly claimed that the NRC exercise will be extended to states across the country, people thought that this was being done in the thick of electioneering and they were not serious. However, the repeated announcements, even months after the conclusion of the Lok Sabha elections, seem to be a conscious effort on the part of the BJP leadership to use it as an election agenda that it is trying to use in assembly elections to win the states.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hasn’t spoken a word on NRC in Assam or the implementation of NRC anywhere else, outside Assam till now, Amit Shah has been making a strong pitch for it not just in Bengal but elsewhere too. While Muslims wouldn’t have felt very concerned about the entire exercise had the NRC looked non-partisan, non communal in nature, the latest speech of Amit Shah in Kolkata has set the tongues vagging, creating a sense of fear in different parts of the country, especially in Bengal.
The Home Minister, while speaking at a function in Kolkata on October 1 said, “I want to assure all Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees that you will not be forced to leave India by the Centre. Don’t believe rumours. Before NRC, we will bring the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which will ensure these people get Indian citizenship.”
Exclusionist in nature
The exclusionist outlook of the promised NRC is something that has created a sense of despair and fear among Muslims. The claim, made by the Home Minister, in his Kolkata rally very clearly omits Muslims from the people who will be protected by the promised Citizenship Amendment Bill that will ensure the citizenship rights to those people who will not be able to prove their Indian Citizenship. While earlier, Christians were also excluded from the list, in Kolkata speech, the Home Minister clearly mentioned Christians too who will be included in the Citizenship Amendment Bill. This means that the only community that will not be protected by the proposed bill will be Muslims and no one else, giving an impression that the entire exercise is aimed at creating fear and panic among the Indian Muslim community.
Claims about NRC in different states
While the outcome of the tiresome exercise in Assam would have dampened the spirit of the people demanding NRC across the country, it doesn’t seem to have done so. Following the costly exercise, that would have instilled some sense about the futility of the idea, there is demand from different states, all ruled by the BJP, to start NRC exercise in those states.
While Home Minister, Amit Shah, is himself pitching for NRC in Bengal, aiming to make it a political plank to dislodge Mamata Banerjee and her TMC from the Writers’ Building, regional satraps in different states including Karnataka and Haryana are also demanding the NRC to further their own agenda.
A detention center is being built in Sondekoppa in Nelamangala, some 40 km from Bengaluru. However, this detention center was unrelated to NRC or any such exercise and its construction was started during the previous Congress-JDS government in the state. After coming back to power by attracting the Congress and JDS MLAs to its fold, the BJP has started pitching for NRC and cow slaughter ban in the state. Basavaraj Bommai, senior BJP leader and the state home minister is making a strong pitch for the NRC in the southern state, the only state in the South where the BJP is in power now. The minister has confirmed that the home ministry in the state is trying to collect information on aliens residing illegally across not just Bangalore but the entire state. The minister also said that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being seriously studied for future implementation in Karnataka. Bommai went on to add, “We (government) have started the preliminary exercise to prepare the ground to introduce NRC in Karnataka by collecting necessary information (about illegal immigrants). After this, we’ll discuss it with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and take a final call in a week or two”.
Karnataka is not the lone state that has expressed interest in implementation of NRC in the state, another BJP ruled state, Haryana too is making a strong pitch for implementation of NRC in the state. While talking to the media last month, the state Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that the NRC may be implemented in his state too. "In Haryana we will implement NRC along the lines of Assam", said the chief minister who is facing a tough test in the state assembly election from the Congress party. The Chief Minister said that he has already talked to HS Bhalla, a retired high court judge on the issue in detail.
Is the Nationwide NRC possible?
Both the states where the BJP leaders are talking of implementation of NRC are poll bound. While the assembly elections are being held in Haryana, the BJP government in Karnataka is in a very precarious situation. By-polls for 17 assembly seats in the state are expected to decide the future of the BJP government in the state. These seats are strongholds of the Congress and Janta Dal Secular and the rebels who sided with the BJP that ensured the toppling of the Congress JDS in Karnataka are expected to suffer huge reverses if the elections are held now. Apparently the NRC issue is being used in both the state as a poll plank to further the Sangh agenda in the two states.
A nationwide NRC is possible if the government gets a law passed from the Parliament that also goes through from Rajya Sabha. While this may not be impossible for the BJP in the current circumstances, it will put very heavy strain on the coffers of the Union Government.
The NRC in Assam was not done on the whims of the state government but it was done following the Assam Accord (1985). Following the 1971 War with Pakistan when India encouraged the influx of refugees from Bangladesh, there was backlash from ethnic Assamese who demanded that the refugees be expelled. A bloody movement to remove the alleged illegal migrants was launched by ethnic Assamese parties that also saw some of the worst incidents of ethnic violence including Nellie massacre. On 18 February 1983 in 14 villages of Nagaon district more than two thousand people were massacred. A Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) was signed between representatives of the Government of India and the Assam Movement leaders in New Delhi on 15 August 1985.
The Assam Accord was signed in the presence of Rajiv Gandhi by the representatives of Assam Movement including Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Bhrigu Kumar Phukan and Biraj Sharma and representatives of Governments of India and Assam R D Pradhan who was then Home Secretary, Government of India and P P Trivedi, the then chief secretary, Government of Assam.
While the NRC in Assam was needed due to historic reasons, there is apparently no need of this futile exercise in any other part of the country, more so after the NRC data has proved that the entire campaign was based on merely whims and rumors. Out of around 19 lakh people excluded from the NRC thus far, just over 6 lakh are Muslims. It is being said that when the Foreigners Tribunals finalize their hearing the numbers will come out drastically. The NRC in Assam has been a blessing in disguise for Muslims. It has destroyed the myth of large number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the country.
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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