Given the fears and apprehensions, the publication of the final NRC may unleash a storm of controversies, distress, protests and agitations in Assam.
The Supreme Court-mandated exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam may well turn out to be a colossal exercise in futility.
The purpose behind the entire effort was to make a register of genuine Indian citizens living in Assam and leave out the names of the lakhs of illegal migrants from Bangladesh from it.
But, in the end, it may well be the names of a huge number of Hindus — mostly Bengalis, but also Assamese — and indigenous people like Bodos, Karbis, Dimasas, Rabhas etc — that will be left out of the final NRC that will be published on Saturday (31 August).
The Assam unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already spoken out against the NRC updation exercise. BJP leaders, including state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass, have gone on record to apprehend that the final NRC is unlikely to be “error-free”.
Dass has blamed NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela, who has been working under the close supervision of the Supreme Court, for being “whimsical”.
Dass and his party leaders, including ministers, have said that the names of many Assamese and Bengali Hindus who are genuine citizens of Assam, as well as descendants of freedom fighters and families of martyrs of the anti-foreigners’ Assam Movement is being left out of the final NRC.
A large number of indigenous tribals of the state will also be excluded from the final NRC, they say.
BJP leaders allege that illegal Bangladeshi migrants have obtained citizenship documents fraudulently or submitted fake documents to get their names included in the NRC.
“Scrutiny of documents submitted by suspected Bangladeshis has been very lax and a section of officials have even conspired to include names of aliens into the NRC,” Dass alleged.
He also alleged that many Bangladeshi nationals were working in NRC Seva Kendras, where documents submitted by people who want their names included in the NRC are scrutinised.
The apprehensions being voiced by the BJP about names of a large number of genuine Indian citizens being kept out of the NRC, rings true.
Statistics submitted by state Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary in the state assembly earlier this month indicate major anomalies.
“Logically speaking, the maximum number of exclusions (of names from the draft NRC) should have been reported from the districts along the India-Bangladesh border that have a huge presence of Bangladeshis who have settled down there illegally,” he said.
“It is very well known that districts like Dhubri have a large presence of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. A study of the demographic changes and population growth in these districts is enough. Hence, it is from these districts that the maximum number of exclusions should have been reported,” he added.
“Instead, the maximum number of exclusions is from districts that don’t have much of a presence of Bangladeshi infiltrators,” said Patowary, who was one of the senior leaders of the Assam movement.
For instance, the claims of nearly 92 per cent of those who applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC in Dhubri district was accepted.
In Karimganj, South Salmara and Hailakandi, three districts that are said to have large presence of Bangladeshi infiltrators, the figures are 92.33 per cent, 92.78 per cent and 91.96 per cent respectively.
But districts which are known to be largely free from infiltrators and are dominated by indigenous communities have lesser inclusions.
For instance, Karbi Anglong (with a Karbi majority), Baksa (Bodos), Udalguri (Bodos) and Tinsukia (Assamese Hindus and Ahoms) have posted inclusion rates of a much lower 85.65 per cent, 84.41 per cent, 85.26 per cent and 86.75 per cent respectively.
In the Bodo-dominated Darrang district, the claims of nearly 31 per cent of those who applied for inclusion in the NRC were rejected. In Kamrup-Metro district (comprising state capital Guwahati), which is inhabited mostly by genuine Indian citizens, the claims of nearly 18 per cent of the applicants were rejected.
All this, say BJP leaders, provide a strong indication that the NRC updation exercise was subverted and names of Bangladeshi nationals will figure in the final NRC.
The Union and Assam governments had pleaded before the Supreme Court last month for sample re-verification of 20 per cent of the names included in the draft NRC in districts along the India-Bangladesh border and 10 per cent of the names in the remaining districts.
But the Supreme Court turned down the plea after NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela told the apex court that a sample re-verification of documents and antecedents of 27 per cent of those whose names appeared in the draft NRC have already been carried out.
This has upset the BJP and brought Hajela in the line of fire.
“On what basis has Hajela said that? A third party should do the re-verification, how can Hajela re-verify his own work,” asked BJP’s Silchar Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Rajdeep Roy.
BJP leaders say the Supreme Court’s directive in July 2017 barring the state government from interfering in the NRC updation exercise has led to subversion of the whole process by inclusion of names of Bangladeshi nationals.
All Assam Bengali Unity Manch general secretary Santanu Mukherjee says that names of lakh of Bengali Hindus will be left out of the final NRC.
BJP MLA Siladitya Dev, while echoing Mukherjee, said: “NRC coordinators are hostile and apathetic towards pre-1971 Hindu migrants from (then) East Pakistan, but very helpful towards Muslim applicants”.
As per the Assam Accord (which brought the Assam Movement to an end), only those who came into Assam from East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) before 24 March 1971, will be considered Indian citizens.
The NRC updation exercise was also part of the accord, but successive governments failed to undertake this exercise till the Supreme Court ordered the updation in 2013.
So far, more than Rs 1,200 crore has been spent and nearly 55,000 Assam government officials have been involved in the exercise.
The first draft of the NRC was published on 31 July last year and the names of more than 40 lakh of the 3.29 crore who had applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC were dropped.
The past 13 months have been devoted to examining the claims for inclusion of names of over 36 lakh of the 40 lakh who had been left out and in examining objections over inclusion of names.
“Nearly 3.8 lakh of the 40 lakh who were excluded from the draft NRC did not apply for re-inclusion. Despite repeated requests, Hajela did not provide the names and details of these 3.8 lakh people. Who are these people and why did they not re-apply for inclusion in the final NRC? Is it because they know that their claims will not stand scrutiny and that they are Bangladeshis or is it because they need help to re-apply?” wondered Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patowary.
Dass said that after the final NRC is published, the party will scrutinise each and every name.
“We will request the state government to carry out fresh counter-verification of all documents submitted by people of doubtful nature (meaning suspected Bangladeshis). That is the only way to rectify the errors in the final NRC,” he said.
BJP state secretary Kishore Upadhyay, who is also the general secretary of the Assam Gorkha Sammelan, says the NRC will be the “dying declaration” of the indigenous people of Assam. The names of many Gorkhas, who have been residing in Assam for generations will also be left out of the final NRC, he fears.
Given all these fears and apprehensions, the publication of the final NRC will surely unleash a storm of controversies, distress, protests and agitations in Assam.