The strident propaganda launched by some quarters against the updating process of Assam’s unique National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951 insinuating that this was a conspiracy to disenfranchise a huge number of Indians ignore the fact that the update of the NRC of 1951 is being carried out under the direction and supervision of the Supreme Court of India.
The overactive propaganda machine deliberately conceal the fact that it has been undertaken after consultation with all political parties in a state which has long suffered from large-scale infiltration of foreign nationals. While dealing with a public interest petition vide Assam Public Works vs the Union of India, the Supreme Court itself felt that Assam’s infiltration problem was grave and it passed an interim order in 2015 directing the Union Government to initiate updating of the NRC of 1951.
The process started only after the Supreme Court directed the Union Government to do so though the demand for updating had been raised not much after the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 following the six-year long Assam Agitation (1979-1985).
Why this National Register of Citizens was prepared in 1951 after the Census of that year only for Assam is a very relevant point. It was noticed during the Census operation that year that large-scale illegal migration was taking place in the state, which assumed the proportion of a demographic invasion and a document to identify the genuine citizens was necessary.
It was a far-sighted decision but unfortunately this exercise was abandoned in the subsequent censuses presumably under the influence of vote bank politics, and illegal migration through the porous border continued. This created a situation in which the indigenous people of Assam were gradually losing their land and economic space, and further becoming almost politically irrelevant in their native land.
The Assam Agitation took place in such a situation. Indian researchers have well-documented the migration problem and even an American researcher Myron Weiner discussed in detail Assam’s disturbing demographic change in his book ‘The Sons of the Soil’.
In 1987, the then Assam Governor Lt Gen SK Sinha (now late) had submitted a detailed and well-documented report to the President of India on the issue of illegal migration suggesting many measures to effectively prevent this undesirable situation. Unfortunately, successive governments ignored the well-meaning recommendations of the then Governor.
Now, following the direction of the Supreme Court and under it’s direct supervision, the draft of the full NRC has been published on July 30, 2018. But mysteriously, an international campaign was started only a few days before the final draft NRC was scheduled to be published by a New York-based organization Avaaj in the name of human rights.
It launched its signature campaign through the social media claiming that 70 lakh ‘Indian Muslims’ had been deprived of their citizenship and equated the fate of this imaginary number to that of the Rohiyingias of Myanmar. Another campaign was carried out by some organizations and individual intellectuals from the Barak Valley of Assam to call it an exercise against Bengali-speaking people of Assam.
Where did these two separate campaigns issuing from two different socio-cultural registers meet? They met at one point: both attempted to paint this exercise as a conspiratorial one on behalf of the indigenous people, who have ironically been at the receiving end of migration pressure on demography since the time of the British occupation of this region.
The British encouraged continuous migration of the immigrants for making their occupation profitable for the colonial Government then established in the region. The trend continued and migration rather increased after India’s independence through then Indo-East Pakistan border. Political calculations of the successive ruling parties indulging in sectarian politics in an Independent India found in the immigrants a pliable community of people to use as vote banks.
So, through the successive census operations, demography continued to change in favour of the non-indigenous people with the alarming reduction of the original natives who were the sons of the soil since before the time of the British occupation. History does not go back and the pre-British original natives of Assam cannot expect to get back the comfortable position of absolute pre-eminence of the then time.
This is the lesson the Assam Agitation has taught resulting in the compromise of Assam Accord. The one thing the indigenous communities will not accept is being a minority in their homeland and be politically beholden to the immigrants who may in course of time try to grab the major portion of the political cake. The vilifying campaigns against the updating of the NRC are an attempt not only to communalize the exercise but also to cause an amnesia about the historical fact of continuous loss of political and economic space by the indigenous people.
The NRC is an exercise to ensure that the genuine Indian citizens are not deprived of the entry of their names in the Register and that those who entered India after 24th March 1971 from Bangladesh are not included in the same register. The acceptance of the entire stream of immigrants from the date of the independence of the country till 24 March 1971 is not only a recognition of the historical situation of the birth of Bangladesh but for the autochthons, it is a big sacrifice of their interests and rights on their native soil.
Whatever the negatively motivated campaigns launched against the NRC, there cannot be halting of the exercise going the full distance. Since the Supreme Court is overseeing the exercise, we should trust that it will lend its weight to the preparation of a correct NRC after all the stages get completed without room for motivated accusations from any quarter. It is unfortunate that some media persons have used an international media to exorcise the ghost of Nellie to communalise the NRC before it saw the light of the day.
This only creates fear psychosis in the minds of the people who survived Nellie and are living peacefully. Entry of names in the NRC needs proof of some documents agreed to by all stakeholders, which are many with alternatives, and everyone including the indigenous people have been required to collect and submit these documents. Everyone has taken a lot of pains to submit their proof of citizenship.
If there is some mistakes and if there is some mischiefs, all such aberrations have to be rectified during the ongoing process of submission of complaints and if it is found that any official is indulging in mischief, such officials have to be taken to task according to procedure.
A Vice Chancellor of a university did not find his name published in the first draft, which happened to many genuine citizens including many native inhabitants of Assam, and this gentleman began a campaign against NRC calling it a conspiracy against the community he belongs to. This was an immature response. It seems he has gone silent now because his name has appeared in the final draft. Those who are invoking the ghost of Nellie seem to be trying to bury the NRC before it is completed in all respects. It has the look of a calculated move to spread a fear psychosis in a particular community.
It also seems to be complementing the international conspiracy by Avaaz to paint extremely negative image of the indigenous communities of Assam. They have shown exemplary patience against provocation and mischievous propaganda and there is no breach of peace. It is very unfortunate that Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal, is speaking of a ‘civil war’ which is an immature statement from a leader considered mature.
The ruling party by bringing in an amendment to the Citizenship Act to grant citizenship to illegal migrants of Hindu and some other religious communities excluding only the Muslims (and having already legitimized the illegality of their migration by allowing them to continue to stay) has provided ammunition to the international groups like Avaaz to paint a communal picture of the NRC document.
The real stakeholders, the indigenous people of Assam, have clearly stated many a times that their demand for identification of illegal immigrants do not distinguish between Hindus and Muslims but between Indian nationals and illegal immigrants. Now, if according to arguments put forward by those who oppose the NRC, all the 40 lakh applicants not included in the draft NRC are Indians, where have all the aliens vanished?