“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, the it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, …..”

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Already several years have gone by since the process of updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 was taken up. Amidst virtually serial road-blocks and legal labyrinth, under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India, the D-Day for the publication of the final updated NRC is round the corner.

Over the years, the people of Assam extended cooperation to the fullest to the NRC update process in expectation of a foreigner-free NRC.

The process of extending cooperation to the NRC authority indeed proved to be a highly expensive affair for the vast multitude who as a matter of rule belong to the poorer section of the society. In innumerable cases, the people had to sell their properties, both moveable and immovable, in order to meet the huge expense of travelling hundreds of kilometers to attend the verification hearings organised by the NRC authority.

There is no dearth of instances wherein people were compelled to dispose of their livestock that constituted the only means of earning their livelihood. Worse still, people belonging to one region of the state, say lower Assam, were called to attend hearings held by the NRC authority in upper Assam.

Such mindless action on the part of the NRC authority is beyond any range of acceptability considering the fact that the vast majority of the people belong to the poorer section of the society who by dint of their toil and sweat eke a living while another sizable section belong to the BPL category.

It is beyond one’s comprehension as to how the NRC authority could undertake such a move to the utter distress of the poorer section of the society. Could there be a well calculated plan of getting some people trapped between the devil and the deep sea on a selective basis?

Whatever be the game plan of the high-ups, the poorer section found itself being trapped in a murky political cauldron and being almost literally mocked at by the high and the mighty. What could be still worse is the bitter reality that some families had to attend several such verification hearings in far off districts.

What is clear as daylight even to the layman is the fact that travelling to the other end of the state to attend hearings is a hugely costly affair even for families with average income, leave alone the vast multitude that comprise of the poorer lot.

It may be pertinent at this juncture to inform the heavyweights of all sectors engaged in the NRC update process that on the basis of economic backwardness, India belongs to the third world and that the first world may continue to remain a dream for ages to come.

In the fitness of things and in light of the welfare state concept as enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution, it was the avowed duty of the NRC authority to go closer to the people to conduct such hearings even if the heavens were to fall down.

Again it may be highly relevant to recall various absurd issues harped upon by the NRC authority at the very beginning like rejection of panchayat documents or the move to discard the NRC of 1951 or the electoral rolls of 1966 or the move to insist on out-of-this-world factor like original inhabitant (OI) for the preparation of the final NRC.

Fortunately for the people of Assam, the Supreme Court came forward to the rescue of the populace by outrightly rejecting all such proposals made by the authority. Obviously, one is bound to presume that all such moves or proposals made by the state NRC authority might have been outcome of some intense pressure by some powerful lobby(ies).

Likewise, one may be of the view that the Supreme Court could possibly and clearly see through the game-plan. In the light of the above contention, could it be that under immense pressure from some powerful lobby(ies), the NRC authority took advantage of the extremely poor  economic condition of a vast section and drew up a calculated plan to deprive some poor people, may be on a selective basis, from attending hearings?

Can the NRC high-ups give a confirmatory statement that no family or person failed to attend verification hearing because of extreme economic hardship when called to attend such hearings hundreds of kilometres away from home?

As was in the case of the final draft NRC, so also in the case of the fixing the date of the publication of the final NRC as August  31, 2019, the Supreme Court adopted an extremely liberal approach, granting maximum possible time to the NRC authority to complete the exercise. However, a powerful lobby or lobbies made all possible attempts with umpteen number of petitions before the apex court to get the publication date of the final NRC postponed almost indefinitely by calling for more verifications in the districts bordering Bangladesh.

The ulterior motive could very much be to buy time and delay the update process under one pretext or another till possibly the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is introduced and passed by the Parliament. Once introduced in the Parliament, the passage of the Bill in both the Houses is a certainty. And once CAB becomes an Act, Assam may become a safe and natural home for hoards of Hindu Bangladeshi nationals.

However, if (repeat ‘if’) the final NRC sees the light of the day on August 31, 2019, it will serve as a legal document for all those whose names appear in the document. The amount of dirty political mud slinging that has taken place in the last few weeks, almost to the point of washing dirty linen in public, over the NRC issue, one begins to wonder if it is “the best of times” or “the worst of times”, for the people of Assam.

It may be noted that the same powerful quarter(s) continue to assert, surprisingly even before the final NRC is published, that names of tens of thousands of foreigners have made way into the final NRC while an equally large number of genuine Indians have been left out.

It is indeed a myth, mystery and wonder as to how these powerful people who rub shoulders in the corridors of power have come to acquire knowledge about the contents of a document that is yet to be made public officially. Again, it is beyond one’s comprehension as to how these centre(s) of power can claim one person as foreigner and another as Indian.

Sight should not be lost of the fact that under the supervision of the Supreme Court, enough time has been given for claims and objection to all introspect of the preparation of the final NRC. People who do not avail such opportunities obviously do not have the right to object to the publication of the final NRC. Indeed, that exactly is the scenario, enveloped in sheer absurdity, presently emerging in the state.

As of now, despites all monitoring and deadline set by the Supreme Court for the publication of the final NRC, activists of the anti-NRC lobby(ies) continue to stage protests in various forms in different parts of the state as well as in Delhi against the publication of the final NRC on August 31, 2019. Demand has also been made in some such protest meets to scrap the final NRC to be published with an ordinance issued by the Centre. This clearly indicates as to how hard such lobby(ies) has(have) been working all these years to defeat the very purpose of the NRC.

On the other hand, it is highly bewildering to observe the huge soft corner displayed by the Centre and the Assam government for those to be left out of the final NRC. While the very purpose of updating the NRC is to have a foreigner-free document, the Union home ministry has announced that all those who fail to make it to the final NRC should not be treated as foreign national.

Further, the government is making arrangements to render free legal aid to such people on a selective basis. Considering the ruling dispensation’s Hindutva agenda and the essence of upcoming CAB, one can easily comprehend the reason for the government’s soft corner for some people expected to be left out of the final NRC and the government’s possible future strategy.

The utterly murky development till date from the time that the NRC authority began its exercise on the final NRC through hearings till date, particularly since the apex court refused to grant any more extension of the date for publication of the final NRC, certainly causes the conscious observer to question if the state would witness the final NRC being made public on August 31, 2019.

No one can quite comprehend as to what cards may be up the sleeves of the strong lobby(ies) opposing the publication of the NRC and how that card may find manifestation out in the open in the coming days.

Meanwhile, as per statements issued by some heavyweights of the ruling front at the Centre and in the state, massive security bundbust is in place in Assam to ensure peace in the run up to the publication of the final NRC and the post publication period. Pondering over the development as reported in the media, one almost loses his way in the ever burgeoning maze on NRC. The question that is uppermost in the conscious mind is if peace shall overwhelm all other factors in the coming days or if some trouble makers who could be lurking round the corner succeed in finding a leeway to formant trouble.

Armed with intelligence inputs, the government must be adequately aware of the scenario likely to emerge in the coming days. While peace is an absolute necessity and no compromise can be made under any circumstances in this respect, the powers that must be aware if some trouble mongers might be on a lookout to disturb peace and if possible even derail the NRC publication process.

Now being constitutionally duty bound to maintain peace and in the backdrop of huge security arrangements being made, one may be hopeful that the government will effectively fulfill its duty as per the law. Hence, banking on the assurance given by the government, both the Central and the State, the people of the State can only hope, wish and pray that the final NRC sees the light of the day on August 31, 2019 and that the government leaves no stone unturned to maintain peace in the pre and post D-Day periods.

As the D-Day draws closer, one may fervently pray that the future generations do not speak of the present time in the language of Charles Dickens as quoted at the very beginning of this write-up.

Talmizur Rahman

Talmizur Rahman is a Guwahati based senior journalist and commentator. He can be reached at rahmantmz5@gmail.com

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