The process of updating the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has begun, with the issue already giving rise to heated debate in the Assembly. Members have raised questions whether there is at all a reliable mechanism to carry out this process effectively. Are all the NRC seva kendras equipped with copies of the 1951 NRC and voters lists before 1971? Some AIUDF MLAs have alleged that many seva kendras are only furnishing the 1971 voters list, that many anomalies are cropping up with mes being entered in English in the NRC database while voters lists contain mes in Assamese. Seva kendras are allegedly not accepting affidavits submitted with me correction applications, and also not entering mes of many women who have married and changed residence. Demands have been raised in the House to ensure hassle-free online viewing of NRC data. Meanwhile the AASU, the BJP and some other organisations and parties are voicing suspicions that the powers-be in Dispur are deliberately stoking the debate over ‘Assamese people’ to obscure the NRC update process. The AAMSU has already warned that the demand of AASU and other ethnic organizations to consider the 1951 NRC as the basis for defining ‘Assamese people’ will not be acceptable. With the Supreme Court deadline to complete the NRC update process by January 2016, will the controversy over who is ‘Assamese’ set communities against each other in this sensitive State? In case an insoluble law and order problem is created in Assam, will it jeopardise and push the NRC update beyond the Assembly elections next year, and thereby into uncertainty?
The truth is that the NRC update in Assam will legitimise as citizens most of the people of doubtful tiolity born in the State before December 3, 2004. As per the Assam Accord, the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Citizenship Rules of 2003 — the people born between July 1, 1987 to December 3, 2004 will be included in the NRC even if one parent is a foreigner. Those born from March 25, 1971 to July 1, 1987 with both parents as foreigners — will also make it to the NRC. So the descendants of most people of doubtful tiolity in the State will be included as citizens in the NRC by due process of law. Now consider the frequent brouhahas in the Assembly over the doubtful (D) voters issue, and a pattern begins to emerge. Even if Foreigners Tribuls or the Courts declare someone as an illegal Bangladeshi migrant, these orders are sought to be contested in the House to cloud the entire issue. With descendants being legitimised and any questions about the tiolity of ancestors sought to be nipped in the bud, the question of who is a foreigner in Assam will soon become irrelevant. And with indigenous communities fighting over who is an ‘Assamese’ to qualify for non-existent constitutiol safeguards on the basis of a practically dead Assam Accord, the mockery is complete. The Supreme Court is also taking hearings over the base year for detection of foreigners, with Assam Public Works (APW), the Sanmilita Mahasangha and some tribal bodies contesting the Assam Accord base year of 1971. The petitioners demand that the base year should be 1951 instead. The entire issue of detecting foreigners is thus enmeshed in legal uncertainty. Successive governments in Assam did not bother to define who is an ‘Assamese’ in three decades, and even if the present one miraculously does so, what guarantee is there that the Central government will not sleep over the ‘Assamese’ definition? And so between the NRC update and ‘Assamese’ definition controversies, the boundaries between Assamese and foreigners will cease to matter in Assam. This is the socio-political tragedy the State is staring at, languishing as it is in economic backwardness.