With the complete draft national register of citizens (NRC) set for publication on mid-day of 30th July, Assam will keep its date (albeit belated) with a momentous event. After the NRC was prepared in 1951 across India following the first census, this is the first time it is being updated in any State of the Union. Reportedly, States like Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh have expressed interest in how the exercise is being conducted, while NE sister States are likely to follow the developments in Assam keenly in the coming days. After all, though it is about registering citizens, this exercise is expected to address questions about the survival of indigenous people and whether India as a nation will continue to be wishy-washy and self-defeating about citizenship matters. Let it not be forgotten that sheer political irresponsibility for decades is the reason why the foreigner problem in Assam has grown so intractable. This in turn has given votaries of illegal immigrants the temerity to obstruct at every turn a court monitored exercise to distinguish citizens from foreigners. Even as they swear by the law, these quarters claim that such a ‘legalistic’ exercise and rules-regulations about citizenship is ‘beyond the comprehension of lakhs of illiterate working people’. Well, it is high time things changed for the better. This nation has to get serious about citizenship norms, and there should be zero tolerance for a system that arms foreigners with bogus papers to get into electoral rolls and citizenship registers. As the NRC exercise moved past the verification stage, the desperation of the pro-foreigner lobby has risen with the knowledge that a sizeable number of such bogus papers may have been detected during scrutiny. No wonder the talk about victimisation of ‘genuine Indians’ has grown shriller! There are already obvious attempts to bring forth pan-Islamists, Hindutva brigade and other sinister players to fish in troubled waters. Following a mischievous online campaign from foreign soil, a section in national media has now raised the bogey of a ‘Rohingya-like situation’ post draft NRC publication. With 1.5 crore applicants to know their citizenship status on Monday, numbers like 5 lakh to 20 lakh and more are being flung about as to how many would be left out of NRC. The filing of objections and claims by those left out will be a critical stage, because that is when the wheat will be separated from the chaff. The criteria for citizenship and acceptable papers will be under intense public scrutiny. Meanwhile, the joint parliamentary committee has sought six months more to submit to Parliament its report on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 which in effect envisages granting citizenship to minority (read Hindu) refugees from Bangladesh. If this report is submitted in the last week of February, there is all likelihood that the issue will figure strongly as a poll plank in the general elections in April-May. This besides, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court will also be hearing the matter whether the base year for determining foreigners should be pushed back from 1971 to 1951. India as a nation will have to grapple with questions like what to do with those indubitably proved to be foreigners. New Delhi has no treaty with Dhaka to deport Bangladeshi citizens illegally staying here, so what can be done if they number in lakhs? Once they are out of NRC, should they remain in the electoral rolls? If they are housed in camps, the logistics for looking after their basic needs would be staggering; in case they are allowed to work for their upkeep, alternatives like work permits will have to be explored. These questions will need calm heads and clear thinking. The onus is now on the ruling dispensation in Dispur to keep channels open with other political parties and stakeholders. The State administration must stand firm to defeat any orchestrated design to disturb the peace and give the NRC exercise a bad name. In particular, the State police will need to keep tabs on social media and nip all mischief in the bud.
Momentous Date: Publication of Complete Draft NRC in Assam