Sarbananda Sonowal (Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • If the National Register of Citizens succeeds in identifying a huge number of illegal migrants, the BJP will be the only party to benefit politically from the exercise, and which is likely to trigger a shift in the political narrative from minority to majority appeasement.

Soon after the Assam government released the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), an uneasy political game has begun in the state over the contentious exercise. The first draft has declared 1.9 crore people of total 3.29 crore applicants as legal citizens of India. The entire purpose of this exercise, which has been monitored by the Supreme Court, has been to identify and eventually evict illegal immigrants.

That 1.29 crore out of a total of 3.29 crore applicants did not find their names in the first draft of the NRC for Assam points to the immensity of the challenge the state is facing in diagnosing illegal migrants. The NRC is meant to decide who is a bonafide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants.

It was almost inevitable that the 1979-85 agitation against illegal Muslim immigrants would erupt like a putrid boil on Assam’s fertile landscape. Census figures show that the state’s population leapt by 36 per cent between 1951 and 1961 and by 35 per cent in the next decade. Assam’s population rose to 31.2 million in 2011, a 17.1 per cent rise from 2001, which is a significant rise.

Hours after the first list was released on the midnight of 31 December, former Assam chief minister and senior Congress leader Tarun Gogoi was quick to claim the NRC was his party’s “brainchild” and was started during its tenure. But the other reality during the tenure of Congress was that between 1985 and 2012, according to an Assam government white paper, only 2,442 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had been expelled from the state.

Moreover, when the Assam government carried out a pilot NRC in three tehsils, or village clusters, in 2010, there was violence after the All Assam Minority Students Union protested and the entire process was halted. No doubt, the Congress party initiated this idea but they tried to implement it in a soft way unlike the way it has now been implemented. The influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has been a delicate political issue in Assam, and their deportation had been the Bharatiya Janata Party’s key campaign theme ahead of the 2016 assembly election. It is, however, too early to say if the ruling BJP, which has been pushing for NRC updation since it came to power in the state in 2016, will actually benefit from it.

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On the one side, the Congress is supporting the NRC, but on the other, they also hold the Assam government responsible for making a distinction between Hindu and Muslim immigrants. Moreover, a recent comment by the Chief Minister of West Bengal is also adding fuel to the political scenario where she framed the entire process as “conspiracy” against the Bengali people.

For the BJP to get any serious political benefits from it, there has to be an actual shift in demography, with the state succeeding in altering its social fabric by pushing those whom it identifies as ‘illegal immigrants’ out. The BJP believes Bangladeshi immigrants have enjoyed political patronage from the Congress, which has ruled Assam for decades. In between all these political games, the fact which is true is that whichever party succeeds in completing the exercise in an efficient way will get a huge political leverage in the state.

There is enough confusion among common people of the state after their names were not included in the first list, however, another list is still about to be published and the government had already assured that those having proper documents will not have to worry.

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Moreover, the Supreme Court of India is also monitoring the entire process which reduces the chances of manipulation of the exercise. If the NRC succeeds in identifying a huge chunk of illegal migrants, the BJP will be the only party to benefit politically from the exercise. It is likely to trigger a shift in the political narrative from minority to majority appeasement.

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