On Monday, the front-page of this newspaper reported that the Assam government has decided, in the first phase, to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 for Assam’s eight districts comprising Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Golaghat, Nagaon, Lakhimpur, Sontipur and Jorhat. Our news story also reported that last year the State government had sent revised modalities relating to the NRC updating, saying that the NRC would be updated for 42 LACs in the first phase without identifying the districts. In this context the Union government also asked the State government as to how the NRC updating would be held for areas where 1951 NRC and 1971 electoral rolls were not available. Regarding this the State government said that the NRC updating would take place for many places of the State, where one of 1951 NRC and 1971 electoral rolls were available. And for places where both of them were not available, the State government proposes to accept any of the 16 proposed documents like, extract of 1951 NRC, land records including tenancy records of relevant period up to March 24, 1971, citizenship certificate issued by competent authority, refugee registration certificate issued up to March 24, 1971 etc. Further, as our Monday news story carried, Home Department sources have stated that an NRC Commissionerate and a NRC Helpline for public query will also come up in the State very soon.
This decision of the Congress-lead Tarun Gogoi Government is doubtless a noble and pro-indigenous venture. It is indeed laudable that the Congress regime is contemplating on getting the state rid of illegal Bangladeshi settlers by initiating steps to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Such updating, if it at all takes off in at least eight districts of Assam would go a long way in solving the infiltration problem of Assam that has changed the demographic profile of the State and is on a nefarious bid to outdo the indigenous sons of the soil. Having said this, we cannot help being a little pessimistic regarding this decision of the State government. This is because of our past experiences that we have had with the Congress regime. The past stance of the Congress governments compels us to brand the Congress dispensation as one that has a pro-Bangladeshi stand. It was the Congress regime which was in power at the Centre when in 1983 the notorious now-scrapped IM (DT) Act was enacted only for this part of the region. This law—that was actually enacted to shield the Bangladeshi vote banks for the Congress — was indeed an act of perversity, as nowhere in any democratic dispensation there existed a unique law only for this part of the region of the same country. Moreover, rarely the successive Congress governments both at the Centre as well as the State have shown strong intentions to solve the problem of Bangladeshi infiltration. On the contrary, the Congress would always like to believe that there are no illegal immigrants in Assam. All that exists are Indian minorities who must be cherished at any cost, otherwise they (the illegally settled Bangladeshis) will shift their allegiance to other recently emerged so-called secular fronts (read the AIUDF) and thus run counter to electoral mathematics of the Congress.
When the Congress values its Bangladeshi vote banks so much and fears that they might shift sides, questions naturally arise as to why the Congress-government is deciding to initiate such election-marring measures and that too on the eve of the panchayat polls? This is because the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government, in its third consecutive tenure in the State, is a little worried about the growing clout of the AIUDF. Whether it openly accepts it or not, it has realized the fact that AIUDF—a party that came into existence as the messiah of the minorities after the abrogation of the IM (DT) Act— is going to wean away a considerable amount of Bangladeshi votes from the Congress. Secondly, it has apprehensions that with Sarbananda Sonowal— a person of tribal lineage— taking the reins of the BJP, a large chunk of tribal votes— along with votes of the rural populace coming from other indigenous communities too— will move in favour of the BJP. Some segments of the rural votes are still bound to go in favour of the AGP as well. Thus is the Congress thrust to woo the rural indigenous voters. With this being the reality, recently Tarun Gogoi launched a slew of measures for the rural areas. And now we have this idea coming from the State government to update the NRC for eight districts of Assam. An indication that the government will update the NRC is definitely going to send some feelers among the rural voters in favour of the Congress party— a factor that it wants to capitalize upon in the ensuing panchayat elections. If the Government was really keen to save the State from the clutches of illegal immigrants, why has the NRC updating process not been initiated much earlier? What message does emanate from the cancellation of the entire project merely because there have been some incidents of violence in Barpeta in the wake of the NRC pilot project? It indicates nothing beyond the well-known reality that such measures are just ploys to bring rural and the indigenous voters into its fold by hoodwinking them and thus win the elections.