The desperate tussle between the Congress and the BJP for Bangladeshi refugee votes has portentous implications not only for politics in Assam, but for the law of the land dealing with citizenship. For the second time, the Gauhati High Court has thrown out a plea by the Assam government that doubtful D voters be allowed to vote. The court while directing that those against whom cases are pending in the Foreigners Tribuls be identified as D voters, has also made it clear that there is no question of granting the right of franchise to D voters. The case this time revolved around a woman declared a foreigner by the Foreigners Tribul in 2011, who filed a petition in Gauhati High Court seeking revision of the order. The court while rejecting her petition discovered that she was already registered as a voter. Issuing notice to the State government, the court questioned how the petitioner declared a foreigner beforehand, could get her me included in the electoral roll. At that time, the State government filed a plea asking the High Court to allow such D voters to cast their votes. The High Court dismissed the plea on 23 March, 2011, just before the State went for the 2011 assembly polls. The court had taken into consideration a directive issued by the Election Commission in 1998, taking away D voters’ right to vote. In its affidavit to the High Court, the State government had furnished figures of around four lakh suspected foreigners against whom cases were pending in the tribuls. Since then, there has been an orchestrated campaign to get D voters included in the State electoral roll; the demand has been vociferously raised in the assembly umpteen times, with some legislators casting aspersions on Foreigners Tribuls as well as the courts. Giving in to the pressure, the State government recently moved the High Court again, arguing that unless and until someone is not declared a foreigner by the Foreigners Tribul, he or should be allowed to vote. That the court rejected the plea again shows how hell-bent the ruling party is to get D voters regularised, despite the law and relevant rules explicitly forbidding it. Interestingly, most of the D voters are Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. With the NDA government at the Centre moving to regularise the entry and stay of such ‘minority’ refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan, the ruling Congress in Assam is displaying an anxiety to go one up in this political game — by getting for them the right to vote. Thanks to the judiciary, this move has been foiled. But in the matter of some political parties willing to exploit any loophole in the law and bend any rule to cultivate foreigners as captive votebanks, Assam is setting an unsavoury precedent before the entire country.
Unwonted concern for D voters