By Sagarneel Sinha
Ever since the final list of National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published in Assam, where more than 19 lakh people were excluded, there have been criticisms against it. Particularly, NRC has been labelled as an “exercise against the Muslim community by the Modi government” by a section of intellectuals. No doubt the final list of NRC is not free from errors but giving religious colours to the process is disturbing.
First of all, NRC is not initiated by Narendra Modi led BJP government. It is based on the 1985 Assam Accord which was signed between the government of India represented by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). The accord was signed on the background to protect the state from the illegal migrants coming from Bangladesh. It was actually done to secure the interests of the local Assamese and indigenous communities — who started to feel insecure with the looming danger of being reduced into a minority in their own lands.
These insecurity of Assamese people is not based on any assumptions. According to various accounts, Britishers facilitated large scale of migration of Bengali Muslims to Assam — to expand its policies of colonisation in the state and to exploit its natural resources — and was done at the expense of the interests of locals dwelling there, which also include Koch Rajbonshis and Bodos. Then after the partition of India in 1947 based on Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s two nation theory of India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims, many Hindu Bengalis of East Pakistan started to settle in Assam by leaving their homeland facing atrocities and persecution under Islamic nation of Pakistan. Not only that, the migration continued even after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Many locals do allege that the Congress party itself facilitated illegal settlements of many Bengali Muslims in Assam for its own vote bank politics. As a result, insecurities of being reduced into a minority started to brew up among the local Assamese section which culminated into protest movements. Thus, the Assam Accord came into being where updation of NRC was agreed and the 24th March, 1971 was accepted as the cut-off date for its eligibility. It is to be mentioned that NRC exercise was already carried out in Assam in 1951 based on that year’s census.
However, the exercise was kept lingering by the leaders of AASU who later form the Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) — which eventually swept the 1985 state elections fought on the background of the Assam Accord. AGP, the state’s major regional party, was in power from 1985-90 and 1996-2001. However, despite its politics being rooted on Assamese sentiments and the Assam Accord, it didn’t implement the NRC exercise. Same goes for the Congress too which also kept delaying the process — in fear of losing the Bengali Muslim votes. However, it was the 2013 Supreme Court’s order to initiate the process, which got faster after the formation of the first BJP government in the state in 2016. Obviously, it’s a coincidence and BJP didn’t lose any time to use NRC for its own vote bank politics.
So, terming Assamese for being xenophobic for vehemently supporting the NRC is absolutely ridiculous. The fears that the Assamese had back in the 1980s are proved quite correct by the figures of the 2011 census — which says that the Assamese speaking population is reduced to only 48% while Bengali speaking people stands about 29%. The figures clearly point out that presently the Assamese community is not even majority in its own state. It is obvious that no community would want to be reduced into a minority community in its land. Also, this fear strengthens more in case of the Assamese due to its neighbouring state Tripura’s changed demography. Tribals of Tripura had majority till the early 1950s but the continued influx of Bengali Hindus from East Pakistan forever changed the demography of the state — which is now a Bengali majority. The case of Tripura is no different from Assam. That’s also the reason that Assamese are strongly supporting the NRC — as they don’t want Assam turning into another Tripura.
However, the final list has failed to satisfy the Assamese people — as many locals including tribals are excluded from it. Plus, many Hindu Bengalis who came before the cut-off date of 24th March, 1971 too are not in the list. Already, many locals have alleged that while many originals are excluded, many foreigners are included in the list. There have been reports of cases being filed against the NRC officials and statements of Assamese organisations to approach the Supreme Court for demanding re-verification of documents.
In order to sustain democracy, concerns of majority should also be addressed along with that of the worries of the minority. But, when a section of intellectuals criticise NRC, they forget that the issues of majority are also needed to be sorted out in a democracy. The worries of Assamese are completely based on facts — not on fantasies. Obviously, human rights of those left out should be a concern — but at the same time ignoring the worries of the majority sentiments of the Assamese will also harm the democratic ideals of this country. One must not forget that it is the duty of the country to protect the interests of the locals and NRC was a promise by the government of India to check the worries of the Assamese.
So, the NRC doesn’t violate the principles enshrined within the Indian constitution. With allegations against NRC for being flawed, there should be proper actions to reduce the errors. Assam, which once witnessed violence based on Assamese separatism for years, shouldn’t be pushed back again to those burning days. A correct NRC list or at least almost free from anomalies, should be published. A failure to do so may only reduce the faith of the Assamese people towards the democracy of India — which will only harm the national interests of the country in the coming future. (IPA Service)