The NRC updation exercise needs to be taken to its logical conclusion and illegal migrants from Bangladesh and all other countries present in India have to be identified, disenfranchised and, wherever possible, deported or made to leave the country.
The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam has finally been published this morning and a little over 40 lakh of the 3.29 crore people who had applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC have been excluded. Of course, this is not the end of the road for them and they have another chance to submit their claims, which will be examined once again before the final NRC is published before the end of this year.
But publishing the NRC is a job not even half-done. Updating the NRC, which was last published in 1961, is just part of a mammoth and much-required exercise to detect the millions of illegal migrants from Bangladesh who have entered and settled down in Assam over so many decades. Once the final NRC is published and all claims (for inclusion of names) disposed of, the task of disenfranchising all those whose names do not figure in the final NRC has to begin. But before that, a major decision needs to be taken: what to do with those whose names do not figure in the final NRC?
This is a million dollar question, and one that must be negotiated skillfully by Delhi in tandem with (Assam's capital) Dispur. Whatever decision is taken about the fate of all those whose names don't figure in the final NRC will have international ramifications. Bangladesh is quite unlikely to take back the illegal migrants since it has consistently refused to acknowledge the plain fact that lakhs of its impoverished citizens have come into Assam illegally through the high-porous Indo-Bangladesh border. If Bangladesh refuses to take back its citizens, what happens to these illegal migrants?
Some have suggested that those whose names don't figure in the NRC - they will obviously be disenfranchised and lose their rights (except the basic human rights) as citizens of India - be granted work permits. This suggestion needs to be explored. But once again, before that, they have to be relocated to all parts of the country. Assam should not be left to bear the burden of these illegal and stateless migrants. The problem of presence of foreigners (illegal Bangladeshi migrants) is a national problem and not Assam's alone. There are many parts of the country -the arid areas of Rajasthan and Haryana and the sparsely-populated forests and ravines in Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra being just two - where 40 lakh people (assuming that most of the claims filed by those excluded from the NRC right now are not upheld) can be easily dispersed and settled.
But for that to happen, the Union government has to muster a lot of courage and political will. There are bound to be howls of protest from opposition political parties - the uproar in Parliament on Monday morning was just a dress rehearsal - international human rights bodies, some western countries, the communists and many others. But such protests should not deter Delhi from taking the task of identifying these foreigners who have come into the country illegally to its logical conclusion. If they cannot be deported, they have to either go away on their own to whichever country they want to or whichever country offers to take them, or live as stateless people in India. Where they get to live will be decided by Delhi in consultation with all those states willing to take them. Delhi must prevail on other states to take them since, as stated earlier, this is a national problem and not just Assam's alone. The task is not going to be an easy one, but that should not be an excuse to continue with the status quo and tolerate the presence of millions of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, most of who have procured citizenship documents, on our soil.
The Supreme Court needs to be commended for taking such an active role in getting the NRC updated and published. Had it not been for the apex court, which ordered the updation exercise and set strict timelines for the whole exercise, the NRC for Assam would perhaps never have been published. It is now imperative for the Supreme Court to order all states to update their NRCs. The NRC updation exercise should be a nationwide one to become an effective and totally relevant one. The reason is very simple: those whose names don't figure in the final NRC can simply move out of Assam, obtain documents like ration cards, passports and voter ID cards in other states and become Indian citizens fraudulently. Tens of thousands of illegal Bangladeshi have already done so in many states all over the country and they need to be identified and booked.
The only way to identify all illegal migrants from Bangladesh (or any other country, for that matter) staying in India is to go by the 1951 census, the first held after Independence. Only those whose names figured in the 1951 census, and those who can prove that their parents' or grandparents' names were in the list of citizens based on the 1951 census, should be included in the NRC.
This is what has been done in Assam for the 3.29 crore applicants. A total of 55,000 state government employees toiled for three years since the updation exercise commenced in February 2015 to verify and cross check millions of documents submitted by the applicants. The publication of legacy data - the 1961 NRC which was based on the 1951 census - and process of receiving application started in August 2015. By then, 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras had been set up all over the state and government employees deputed to man them. The documents submitted by the applicants were matched with the legacy data of 1961. Family trees were traced and false claims weeded out using complex logarithms. Assam has done all this successfully, and the exercise needs to be immediately replicated in all others states of the country. After all, the importance of having an updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the entire country cannot be overstated.
Over the next few days and weeks, there will be many reports in the media highlighting the cases of many whose names have been excluded from the NRC. But in an exercise as huge and complex as this, there are bound to be omissions and mistakes. The process of correcting those mistakes starts now and, as been repeatedly stated by Delhi and Dispur, all those whose names don't figure in the NRC have the chance to re-submit their claims, which will be scrutinised closely before the final NRC is published later this year.
Delhi and Dispur have to take all the unfounded criticisms of the entire NRC updation exercise and the false allegations being made (like this by Mamata Banerjee) head on and reject them very strongly. No case can be made out for allowing illegal migrants to stay on in any part of the country. It is very well-known that Assam has borne the brunt and the burden of hosting millions of illegal Bangladeshis. The phenomenal increases in Assam's population over the decades since Independence (and even before that, but that is a chapter that we are not going into) and the consequent rise in the state's electorate provides enough proof of the large scale presence of Bangladeshis in Assam. Such is the magnitude of the problem that the indigenous people of Assam risk the scary prospect of become minorities in their own land. That is simply unacceptable.
Hence, the NRC updation exercise needs to be taken to its logical conclusion and illegal migrants from Bangladesh and all other countries present in India have to be identified, disenfranchised and, wherever possible, deported or made to leave the country. Those who criticise the NRC updation in Assam are doing so for their petty political and vested interests, and their criticisms must be refuted very strongly. Such critics do not, after all, have the larger interests of the nation in their minds and hearts.