NRC took its time in the making. The various stakeholders in Assam have supported it at different occasions. However, lucrative vote-bank politics defines the stand of the opposition today
In1990s while Congress Chief Minister Hiteshwar Saikia denied about ‘Bangladeshi presence’ in Assam, another Congress veteran S C Jamir (then Chief Minister of Nagaland) made a statement to journalists in 1994 at his Dimapur residence that “Bangladeshis are increasing like rabbits”.
The timing of the publication of the second draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam on July 30, 2018 would go down the memory lane as a historical day for reasons more than one.
Most importantly, it opened a Pandora's Box on double standards of the secular brigade.
Who is to be blamed for Congress flip flop on the NRC issue? Was it their brainchild?
Why should Mamata Banerjeego on reverse gear from what she had said in 2005? How should the Left Front react when they had deported as many as 4,89,046 people from their erstwhile ‘den’ – West Bengal - under the Foreigners’ Act between 1983 and 1998.
“No political party should claim credit for it. It is just because of the bold steps by the Supreme Court that the NRC – which is the first such document on genuine Indian citizens in Assam to be published after 1951 – is soon going to see the light of the day,” — Prafulla Kumar Mahanta
Set the clock straight. Within days of joining hands with Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by a mercurial Mamata Banerjee, the Congress leaders realised their folly.
Along with a few senior leaders -who preferred not to be named - Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress MP plunged into the debate in Lok Sabha proceedings and said Mamata's 'civil war' jibe was wrong and only reflected rather a narrow selfish agenda.
From pages of history
- The NRC prepared in 1951 – after India’s bloody partition in and around 1947 when Bharat got freedom, is being ‘updated’ in Assam under the ‘supervision’ of the Supreme Court to detect illegal immigrants. The issue of ‘influx’ problems in Assam has its origin many years back – say around 1905 when Bengal was partitioned. It turned murkier in 1947 and more so in 1971 when during ‘Bangladeshi’ war of freedom against Pakistan had forced millions of people to flee to ‘neighbouring India’.
- Old records say the then Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in 2008 had contested the observation of Justice B K Sharma of the Gauhati High Court that if indiscriminate influx was not stalled, “Bangladeshis will become kingmakers”.
- “Since my schooldays I have been hearing that Bangladeshis will become kingmakers in Assam. On what basis did the judge say Bangaldeshis can become kingmakers in Assam,” Mr Gogoi had said.
- According to official survey from between 1971 and 1991 – the Hindu population declined from 72 to 67 per cent while Muslim population rose from 14 per cent to 28.
In 2001, six districts in Assam were Muslim dominated, but
- in 2011 that figure increased to nine. The Muslim majority districts include Barpeta, Dhubri, Karimganj, Goalpara, Darrang, Bongaigaon, Hailakandi, Nagaon and Morigaon.
- In 2001, a surrendered ULFA commander of Goalpara region Abhinash Bordoloi had said: “No Bangladeshi was ever attacked. ULFA could take no step against Bangladeshi immigration into India and this is going to leave us nowhere”.
- For northeast militants – ULFA, Nagas and Mizos – Bangladesh has been a favourite hideout for years. Thus militant groups rarely took up any cudgel against infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam and other northeastern states.
- People’s Liberation Army of Manipur revived its political wing in 1989 with a ‘government in exile’ in Sylhet in Bangladesh.
- Former MNF leader Zoramthanga, a former CM and now a senior Mizo politician said “Bangladesh offered best militant camps” for north east groups.
- Some groups had connections from East Pakistan days.
- ULFA ran camps in Chittagong and other places, ULFA commander Paresh Baruah was often operating from Bangladesh only Independent MP from Kokrajhar Naba Kumar Sarania also made a strong pitch for NRC and said people of Assam want peace.
“Jabar dasti is vishay ko uthakar ek sub-regionalism ki halat paida kar di ja rahi hae (Raising this issue by force, sub regionalism is being created over the NRC issue)," Chowdhury said totally disapproving Trinamool stance. The remarks came into light after Mamata Banerjee, a neo-PM aspirant, said there will be blood bath in Assam and that the state will be heading towards ‘civil war’ vis-a-vis Hindu-Muslim conflict. This is what is called playing up the ‘fear psychosis’ eyeing votes. BJP chief Amit Shah is right in this context, when he said, “Mamataji sees nothing other than vote bank; everyone has their one’s own prism, we see the national interest and she is looking at other things”.
In fact, Congress MP Chowdhury's remarks came shortly after BJP MP from Guwahati, Bijoya Chakravarty questioned the rationale behind the visit of Trinamool delegation to Bengali-dominated Silchar in Barak Valley as the State is very much peaceful and no untoward incident has been reported from any of the 37 districts.
"West Bengal Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) has said there will be civil war and blood bath in Assam......for a Chief Minister to say such a thing is 'bhayanak (has dangerous ramification)," BJP MP said amid strong protest from the Trinamool members.
The TMC Trap
“What is Trinamool leadership trying to do when things are peaceful in Assam," asked Chakravarty, who was Union Minister in Vajpayee Government adding that the issue in Assam is not linguistic conflict between Assamese and Bengalis.
Two days later, Congress veteran from Assam Tarun Gogoi, a former Chief Minister, found himself landed in Delhi – and said there is no question of both Congress and Trinamool Congress going together on this sensitive issue.
“There is no question of supporting each other....They might be opposing the NRC. They are opposing but we are not....How can we go together?” Gogoi said.
Countering all allegations and a rather misplaced perception that the Congress is anti-NRC exercise, 83-year-old Gogoi said, “We want NRC to be implemented in letter and spirit”.
The IMDT Act had made it difficult and in the words of Late Pramod Mahajan (BJP leader) – “next to impossible” to deport illegal immigrants from Assam. It soon became the main reason for the rapid rise of the Muslim population and demographic change in Assam. Senior BJP leaders said in 1990s that the Act was pushed through mainly on the grounds that it provided special protections against undue harassment to the “minorities” affected by the Assam Agitation. Notaby, IMDT Act was applicable to the state of Assam only whereas in other states, detection of foreigners is done under the provisions of The Foreigners Act of 1946.
But the political machinations seemed not to work. Mamata Banerjee’s hyped New Delhi visit failed to yield expected results as her desperate attempt to play champion of Muslim cause stood easily exposed. She met a galaxy of opposition leaders but things did not work to her plan. Leaders like Sharad Pawar were cautious in committing anything. The meeting with Congress leaders too was mere cosmetic and only ritual.
Union Minister Arun Jaitley exposed her in simpler words. “India’s sovereignty is paying a heavy price because of the quality of its political discourse. Though Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi took a particular position in 1972 and 1985 for the deletion and deportation of foreigners, Rahul Gandhi takes a contrarian position and his party turns turtle. Similarly, the BJP ally of 2005, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, took a particular position. As a federal front leader, she now talks to the contrary. Can India’s sovereignty be decided by such fickle minds and fragile hands?”
Gogoi further said, “The NRC is my baby....we are not for Bangladeshis as is being made out to be. The BJP leaders are only trying to act as foster fathers and steal the credit".
Insiders in Congress say that perhaps the original blame for the flip flop should go to Rajya Sabha members of grand old party - who walked into a ‘trap’ of TMC MPs and forced adjournment of the Upper House shortly after the NRC draft list was published on July 30 itself.
“It was a trap we walked in...playing second fiddle to Mamata Banerjee. Her agenda was successful. But in Lok Sabha too things were no better. Mallikarjukn Kharge, in his enthusiasm to embarrass the Modi Government, supported Trinamool here too. Worse, Mr Kharge said the BJP was dividing Hindus and Muslims by NRC,” rues a senior Congress Parliamentarian.
The senior MP is anguished at the conduct of his party’s floor managers and said “It is doubly regrettable that none bothered to recollect that the Assam Accord was all about foreign immigration and none other than Rajiv Gandhi had approved it”.
Here comes the real context of ‘hidden pain’ in Gogoi’s remarks when he met some selected journalists at Press Club of India.
"The NRC idea was conceived by me, even the AGP, who was architect of the Assam Accord and the BJP did not have this in mind. Even if the AGP leaders had thought about it, it was not part of the Assam Accord signed in 1985 and the student leaders like Prafulla Kumar Mahanta did not insist on it," Gogoi said trying to dispel a growing notion that the Congress party has been against the exercise to identify the foreign nationals. But the lip-service as demonstrated in Gogoi’s words did not carry conviction.
“People of Bharat Varsh are convinced about double standards of the Congress. Gogoi is singing different tune today. In 2005 he connived with the Manmohan Singh government to present Supreme Court of India in poor light and favoured retaining immigrant friendly IMDT Act,” says Guwahati-based political observer Ratnadeep Gupta.
On February 6, 2005 – about 10 months after coming to power - the UPA regime and the Assam Government in their affidavits in the Supreme Court favoured retaining of the controversial Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT) in the State.
The IMDT Act enacted during the tenure of Indira Gandhi in 1983 was made the ‘basic mechanism’ by the Assam Government in 1985 as a follow-up of the “Assam Accord”, signed between the Centre and the All-Assam Students Union (AASU), during the stint of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Assam Accord and its application in the context of IMDT Act provided that an ‘illegal migrant’ from Bangladeshi would only be deported after his status was determined by an identification tribunal. It turned out to be a tough job.
This Act was later found to be ‘immigrants friendly’ and was challenged in the apex court by former AASU leader Sarbananda Sonowal –now BJP Chief Minister of Assam. Sonowal’s counsel Ashok Desai had contended that it has taken years to ‘determine’ the status of an immigrant, whereas no steps were being taken by the Centre to check the inflow of Bangladeshis.
In the process, the demography of the state was being changed. Between 1971 and 1991 – the Hindu population declined from 72 to 67 per cent while Muslim population rose from 14 per cent to 28. For records, the Supreme Court had quashed the Act.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)