The entire exercise of identifying the citizens and in the process segregate citizens from non citizens by updating the NRC will finally be complete perhaps before this year ends, with post draft being published on 31.12.2017. Though far from being perfect, as instead of identifying the foreigners directly, the NRC updating process identifies citizens by inviting applications requiring applicants to furnish a designated set of documents to show proof of residence in Assam prior to 25.03.1971. With 110% of the population of Assam based on 2011 census applying, it is evident that all residents of Assam including foreigners here applied to be included as a citizen.
There are two principal challenges for the indigenous people of Assam. Challenge because NRC will not be sufficient to save indigenous from becoming a minority and challenge because at this juncture, Assam is facing a crisis of leadership challenge. There are three independent studies based on 2001 and 2011 census which say that indigenous will turn into minority by 2040, 2046 and 2051. In this context the test therefore has to be, whether NRC will safeguard indigenous from becoming a minority.
The first challenge therefore is to ensure that additional measures over and above NRC are taken and the second challenge is quality of the leadership at the present juncture, who will be tasked with driving the entire process.
When citizens are being identified 46 years after a cut-off date of 25.03.1971 there are various complications, firstly any foreigner coming in after 1971 will have parented multiple generations and according to existing law virtually until 03.12.2004 all children born on the Indian soil get citizenship by birth, regardless of the citizenship status of the parents. This issue of conferment of citizenship by birth to children of post 1971 migrants is pending hearing before a five judge’s bench of the Supreme Court, yet another issue whether the cut-off date for the grant of citizenship to migrants should be 19.07.1948 or 25.03.1971 is again pending hearing before a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court. It must be noted that the numbers of those entitled for citizenship by birth is enough to turn the indigenous into a minority.
The very fact that every person, foreigners included will be in line to get citizenship requires the verification process of documents to be full proof particularly when there are large number of reports of fake documentation. This coupled with corruption in the bureaucracy has given rise to fears that the large number of foreigners will successfully become citizens. The correctness of the verification process will be borne out by the number of those who are excluded. According to UPA Government in 2001 there were 50 lakh and according to present BJP Government in 2001 there were 80 lakhs infiltrations. The correct figure therefore will be at least 50 and closer to 80 lakhs.
That apart there is huge uncertainty in the status of those excluded as there is no repatriation agreement with Bangladeshi. Overall because of these uncertainties the outcome of the NRC and the fact that it will not be sufficient to safeguard indigenous from becoming a minority is quite clear.
Additional and further measures are required, the primary reason for migration is economic and the quest for land. Measures should be undertaken to disincentivise Bangladeshis from acquiring land and other benefits from Government, in other words protective legislation for local population in terms of reserving resources like land, government employment, benefits etc as prevalent in other North-East States should be put into place to disincentivise migrants from Bangladesh. It is for this reason that other North-East States are free of the Bangladeshi menace. In fact as court Commissioner appointed by Supreme Court to furnish a report on India – Bangladesh Border, I had in my 3rd report of 05.10.2015 recommended protective legislation i.e. only those who are citizens of India and residents in Assam in 1951 and their progeny should be entitled to buy and sell land. This, in addition to NRC updating, reserving land will comprehensively ensure that indigenous don’t become a minority.
The other big challenge is the quality of leadership which will play a decisive role and paradoxically, though all the leaders who lead the Assam agitation and espoused this cause till date, starting from Prafulla Mahanta to Sarbananda Sonowal all are the part of the present, however, they have not shown any integrity for the cause in safeguarding the interests of the indigenous against Bangladeshi aggression. It is because of leaders like them that in the last 38 years out of an estimated 80 lakh foreigners, less than two and a half thousand have been sent back. The present Government which came to power on the platform of protecting indigenous against Bangladeshi aggressors has constantly taken an anti-indigenous plan contrary to the interests of Indian citizens who voted them to power at several crucial junctures.
Firstly, they went overboard in supporting the grant of citizenship to Hindu migrants and settling them in Assam, overlooking the fact that they had been elected on the promise to protect indigenous identity and not to destroy it by bringing in yet more migrants. This has alienated the present Government from the indigenous population, who elected them. Secondly, in large areas Bangladeshi migrants have occupied village, Government land etc and attacked local indigenous population, this Government has constantly sided with the aggressors and encroachers, who are offenders, being land grabbers. Thirdly, in the very important matter deciding vital questions relevant to the identity and survival of the indigenous population, they have taken a pro-migrant and anti-indigenous stand before the Supreme Court. Even though a two judge bench raised questions about the validity of the cut-off date of 25.03.1971 and why it should not be 19.07.1948 like the rest of the India, this Government adopted the stand that it should be 1971 whereas 1948 favours the indigenous population. On the issue of grant of citizenship by birth to the children of the foreigners, the present Government has categorically taken a stand in favour of granting of citizenship by birth to children of foreigners, this stand of the Government has been welcomed and embraced by AIUDF and AAMSU who represent those of Bangladeshi origin.
Fourthly this Government wanted to delay and scuttle the NRC process. At one point the State Government itself had requested the Supreme Court to forward the date of publication of draft of NRC from 31.03.2018 to 31.12.2017 suddenly in the middle of November contrary to all assurances it sought a deferment not until 31.07.2018. Fortuitously the Supreme Court did not grant this extension.
Short of committing, political suicide, this Government has done everything to alienate all those who voted for it. Even the Bengali Hindus in Assam are unhappy with the sudden pro-Hindu Bangladeshi stand of this Government because it has revived a rift between the Bengali and Assamese speaking population.
Strong and capable, leadership, particularly in these trying-times is the need of the hour. However, we are faced with petty, self serving politicians who for their own ambitions have no compunctions in jeopardizing the future of the people and the state.