Assam NRC list row: What’s next?

The clamour for deporting people who have come into India from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971 without valid papers is bound to grow with the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) identifying over 40 lakh people as technically not Indian. Protests from parties like the Trinamool Congress that have converted these mostly hapless Muslims into a formidable vote bank in West Bengal through appeasement is on expected lines, but this time the Narendra Modi government is armed with the mandate from the country’s apex court to identify these foreigners.

In Assam, the party that capitalised on the votes of these immigrants has been the Congress which made hay while the sun shone. In fact, the Congress had a major hand in opening the borders to massive infiltration from across the border to pander to vote bank politics. It is no secret that the process of identifying these foreigners will not stop at Assam. The next target would be West Bengal and the motivation for the BJP would be to disenfranchise these illegals in both states. But if that is the sole motivation of the BJP, it would be crass selfishness. It would be unfair to deny, however, that the BJP is guided by nationalistic reasons too.

The BJP’s thinking coincides in principle with that of tens of thousands of students who had launched a movement in Assam precisely for this in the 1980s. In the historic Assam accord of 1985 between the Congress-ruled Centre, the Assam government, the All Assam Students Union and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad, the intent to weed out the illegal immigrants had been clearly spelt out. That it has taken well over three decades to arrive at this stage is testimony to the roadblocks that came in the way and the gigantic nature of the exercise. Even now, there is no knowing when and in what form the process will end and how a solution would be found to the vexed issue. For the record, the BJP is strongly denying that deportation is on the cards.

The BJP has added a difficult-to-justify dimension to the whole thing by dividing the immigrants along religious lines with a liberal set of standards for the Bangladeshi Hindus in acquiring India citizenship as distinct from the Muslim immigrants who of course form the bulk of the immigrants. While there can be little doubt that the Hindus were fleeing to escape persecution in Bangladesh which was erstwhile East Pakistan, many of the Muslims too were fleeing for the same reason besides economic deprivation and chaotic conditions.

Inevitably, groups of hoodlums too took advantage of the influx to come across to greener pastures. As they settled down, many of them took up jobs that should have gone to locals and many took to petty thefts and other forms of crime is also undeniable. Besides a section of politicians, some human rights activists too are preparing to challenge the National Register of Citizens (NRC) findings is no surprise. These hypocrites and chaos-breeders have often revelled in championing dubious causes that militate against national interest.

These 40 lakh people in Assam came without any documents and therefore as illegal migrants and through touts and political agents acquired documents that allowed them to pass off as Indian citizens is a saga of not only unscrupulous touts but also of politicians who helped them circumvent existing laws. Out of the 3.29 crore who applied for citizenship authentication, 2.89 crore were accepted as genuine citizens shows a degree of meticulousness that the NRC practised. The Supreme Court overseeing the process was a big boon.

An estimate made in the year 2000 placed the total number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India at 1.5 crore, with around 3 lakh entering every year. The rule of thumb for such illegal immigrants is that for each illegal person caught, four get through. During the UPA regime, Sriprakash Jaiswal, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, had made a statement in Parliament on July 14, 2004, that there were 12 million illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators living in India, and West Bengal topped the list with 5.7 million Bangladeshis. More recently, Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs in the NDA government put the figure at around 20 million.

Tour operators who smuggle these illegals charge a mere Rs 2000 (around US$30), which includes their fees. As Bangladeshis are culturally similar to the Bengalis in India, they are able to pass off as Indian citizens and settle down in any part of India to establish a far better future than they could in Bangladesh. Illegal immigrants in Assam pose a serious threat both to the identity of the Assamese people and to national security. They threaten to reduce the Assamese people to a minority in their own State, as happened in Tripura and Sikkim.

Politically, the Bangladeshi migrants are in a position to influence the results of the elections in a large number of constituencies in the North East (about 32 per cent of the constituencies in Assam). Economically, increased pressure on land, resulting in depletion of forest wealth, undercutting of wages of unskilled jobs, forcible occupation of Government land by the migrants and a host of other such issues, generate a ripple effect in the entire North East which the Modi government in New Delhi is worried about.

Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books. 

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