The Assam NRC Fiasco
Geopolitics|March 2021
With Assam electing a new assembly this month, the National Register of Citizens is going to be a highly emotive issue, which, if not handled properly, will create huge disorders in a state that is traditionally vulnerable to multiple insurgencies having serious strategic implications. RAJEEV BHATTACHARYYA enumerates factors contributing to the fiasco
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

On February 2, 2021, the centre informed Parliament that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would be notified in Assam only after implementation of an ‘appropriate security regime’ similar to the security regime provided for Aadhaar data. Replying to a query from Assam Member of Parliament Abdul Khaleque, minister of state for home affairs Nityanand Rai added that the list of inclusions and exclusions from the register shall be made available to the state government, central government and Registrar General of India (RGI) only after enactment of the regime.

However, no deadline for completion of the enormous task had been specified in the reply fuelling speculation over whether it would actually be completed. The RGI has not yet not yet issued a notification on the NRC which means that the register is not a legal document. The ruling BJP has repeatedly asserted that it would not accept the register in the current form as the names of many foreign nationals are suspected to have been enrolled.

The NRC which was first prepared in Assam in 1951 is a list of citizens who were able to prove through a set of documents that either they or their ancestors had settled in the state before March 24, 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh attained independence from Pakistan. The government had agreed to update the register in an agreement inked with the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 2005. But the exercise was initiated only after the Supreme Court intervened following a Public Interest Litigation filed by Assam Public Works four years later.

The register was updated by the RGI which also conducts the census operations in the country and monitored by the Supreme Court. The compilation of the list incurred an expenditure of around 1400 crores and engaged as many as 52,000 government employees from different departments across all the 33 districts of Assam. Controversies had regularly surfaced ever since the update of the register over victimisation of citizens, harassment and inclusion of the names of foreigners through fake documents.

Outcome of the exercise

The NRC which was published on August 31, 2019 had deleted the names of 19,06,657 applicants out of a total of 3,30,27,661 applicants. The final count marks an increase of nearly 2.2 million citizens from the draft list published a year ago and an additional list of exclusion months later which means that a large number of people who were left out were approved after they filed claims making a case for inclusion in the register. Also, in the final list of delisted people were nearly four lakhs who did not file claims for inclusion after their names were deleted last year.

Major political parties, including the ruling BJP, opposition Congress and civil society groups including the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) erupted in anger after the NRC published the list of citizens. The expectation across the state was a list that would exclude more foreigner nationals than the numbers in the NRC. Assam Public Works, which had made a plea for 100 percent reverification of the NRC, has declared the list as a “flawed document.”

Going a step further was senior BJP leader and minister in Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma who told the media in a series of interviews that 14 lakh foreigners had been identified and that the data in the register was manipulated by foreigners to get their names enrolled. The BJP is also upset over the exclusion of Bangladeshi Hindus who constitute a secured vote bank for the party. It may be mentioned that in the last couple of months, the party had expressed concern over the NRC and state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had said that if necessary, ‘legislative options’ would be considered to identify the foreigners.

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