Tryst with Citizenship

The clock is ticking on the publication of the complete draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The issue of weeding out illegally settled Muslim foreigners and the rights of the people of Assam is at the fore
NJ Thakuria
As the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants remains a vital socio-political issue for Assam along with the whole North-East, the BJP government led by Sarbananda Sonowal took the issue seriously  
With anxiety, confusion, and hope, the people of Assam continue waiting for the second draft of NRC. The final draft is expected to be released by July 30 following the direction of the Supreme Court of Bharat.The first draft of the NRC was published on the midnight of December 31, 2017, and it was like a New Year gift for the Assam residents. The Assamese community as a whole demanded it for decades. Its first draft comprised names of 1.9 crore people out of around 3.29 crore total applicants. The process of updating began in 2013. About 6.5 crore supporting documents pertaining to 68.27 lakh families residing in the State were received. Contrary to the widespread apprehensions of an unpleasant situation arising after the release of the first NRC draft, no major untoward incidents were reported from any part of the State.
A rally in Guwahati demanding the NRC update
The authority along with various political parties, civil society advocacy group representatives and the media played a pragmatic role in maintaining peace across the region. It may be noted that the much-awaited updation of NRC of 1951 was undergoing in Assam following the directive and also monitoring of the Apex court. It’s a follow-up action to Assam Accord, which was signed by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and Gana Sangram Parishad leaders with the Rajiv Gandhi Government.
Making of the Register
The historic memorandum of understanding of 1985 puts the responsibility on the Union Government in New Delhi to detect and deport all migrants (read East Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals) who entered Assam after the midnight of 24 March 1971. In other words, the agreement accepted all residents prior to the dateline as Indian nationals in Assam even though the movement was run with the spirit of 1951 as the base year to detect illegal migrants like in other parts of Bharat. It also mentioned constitutional safeguards to the indigenous communities of Assam to be facilitated by the Centre as illegal Bangladeshi migrants remained a vital socio-political issue for the North-eastern region.
The Assam movement erupted in the eighties and culminated with the agreement. The development finally paved the way for the birth of a regional political party named Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which came to power in Dispur for two terms. However, the local party leaders summarily betrayed the people on the pertinent illegal foreigners’ issue. Now the AGP is an ally to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government in Dispur. On the issue of NRC updation, both the political parties extend support, even though in the issue of citizenship amendment bill, the AGP remains non-committal. Assam’s primary opposition party, the Congress, now claims the credit for the NRC updating process. The Congress leaders asserted that it was their initiative to update the NRC in Assam under the leadership of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Assam’s former Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi tried to update the NRC but he thoroughly failed because of rising violence. Trinamul Congress Supremo and Paschim Bangla Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee initially made a public statement claiming that the NRC updating process in Assam was a ‘conspiracy to drive away Bengali people’ from the State.
Developments on the Ground
As the influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants remains a vital socio-political issue for Assam along with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Manipur, the BJP government led by Sarbananda Sonowal took the issue seriously. Soon after taking power in May 2016, the Sonowal Government listened to the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and initiated for various schemes. The young Chief Minister took the NRC updation issue seriously and seemingly the citizens have reposed faith over the government over the vital issue.
Meanwhile, the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA) appreciated that the Bengalis in the State stood against Banerjee on the NRC updation process. The forum also supported the demand raised by few nationalist Bengali politicians including Dilip Ghosh to have NRC updating process in West Bengal to segregate the illegal Bangladeshis from the indigenous Bengalis.
The situation turned little confusing when four UN special rapporteurs wrote to Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressing their concern over the discrimination faced by Bengali Muslim families in Assam to get enrolled in the NRC. The NRC update has generated increased anxiety and concerns among the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam, who have long been discriminated against due to their perceived status as foreigners, despite possessing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship," said the letter.
The UN special rapporteurs also wanted to know the present status of the Centre’s citizenship amendment bill asserting that the exercise reveals the vulnerability of Bengali Muslims to unlawful exclusion from Indian citizenship. They commented that the discrimination faced by Bengali Muslim families from time to time in the State may be escalated once after the NRC is out.
Lately, Prof Tapodhir Bhattacharya, a human rights defender of Assam’s Barak valley raised question over the NRC updation procedure. In an article, published in a leading Bengali daily from Kolkata, the former Vice-Chancellor of Assam University criticised the initiative as a conspiracy to annihilate Bengali people in Assam. Contrary to a common understanding that the NRC updating process is welcomed by everyone in Assam, a forum of various indigenous and tribal communities recently came out with resentments against the process as they claimed it would serve little purpose for the benefit of locals in the State.
Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha (ASM), in a press meet organised recently in Guwahati Press Club, reiterated its old demand that the final NRC draft should contain only the names of indigenous people of Assam. The forum expressed apprehensions that as the NRC updation has been done with the basis of 1971 only, there might be a huge population of migrants, who enter the State after 1951 (and prior to ’71), gets enrolled in the list of citizens.
"As the NRC has been updated on the basis of 1971 (as it’s the cut-off year), we fear that nearly 70 lakh outsiders living in Assam might become recognised citizens of the country. It may finally lead to a difficult situation for the indigenous communities of Assam," commented Matiur Rahman, working president of ASM. The forum pointed out that Citizenship Act’s clause Section 6 (A), meant for amendment following the signing of Assam Accord in 1985 was unconstitutional. The amendment enabled all migrants (read fromBangladesh), who entered Assam till the midnight of March 24, 1971 (in contrast to national cut-off date of July 19, 1948, for achieving Indian citizenship, it alleged.
Amidst all development, Assam Government officials have reviewed the law & order situation on the eve of NRC second draft release in different settings. Led by State chief secretary TY Das and police Chief Kuladhar Saikia, the review meetings in presence of concerned senior officials, focused on few sensitive districts like Nagaon, Morigaon, Goalpara, Dhubri, Barpeta, Hojai etc, where Muslims have a sizable population. N