Assam NRC: Gamesmanship exposed


One reason why NRC update in Assam has been a lengthy exercise is due to the tardy response of several States during the verification phase. While verifying the documents of people who belong to other States but reside in Assam, the NRC authority sent the legacy data for cross checking to the States concerned. This fact was well documented during hearings taken by the Supreme Court while checking progress of the exercise. It now turns out that the biggest defaulter among the States was West Bengal which returned a pitiful 6 percent of the documenst, as revealed by Sailesh, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. States like Bihar, Manipur and Meghalaya too returned just 2 to 7 percent of the papers after verification, but an exception was made only for West Bengal where Sailesh deputed his own staff to help Mamata Banerjee’s government in doing the needful. There were video conference meets between West Bengal government officials and State NRC authority, but to no avail. “The largest number of documents that we have not received among all States was from West Bengal. We had to struggle. We had to follow up. But we have not received substantial number of documents from West Bengal. The response in terms of results was not satisfactory,” Sailesh has rued. The consequences? The names of at least 5 lakh people could not be included in the final draft NRC because State governments and Central organisations dragged their feet. And now Mamata Banerjee has woken up from slumber to bewail the “harassment” of those excluded from the list, seeing in this “BJP’s political motive” to divide people and capture votes, sounding dire warnings of “civil war and bloodbath”, and worrying about what will happen to India’s relations with Bangladesh. With a Trinamool delegation scheduled to visit Barak Valley on a “fact finding mission” and hold public rallies over the NRC draft, the All Kachar Karimganj Hailakandi Students Associaltion has aptly reminded the West Bengal government how its dawdling has caused thousands of Bengali speaking people failing to find their names in the draft NRC.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley too has now chosen to jog Mamata Banerjee’s memory a wee bit about her position on Bangladeshi immigrants back in 2005, that too on the floor of Parliament. After loudly alleging that the then ruling Left Front in West Bengal was benefiting from illegal Bangladeshi migrant votebank, she had demanded an adjournment motion in Lok Sabha, crying that “infiltration in Bengal has become a disaster”. On being disallowed, she had rushed to the well of the House and thrown papers, purportedly lists of illegal Bangladeshi voters, at the deputy Speaker’s chair. She even resigned from the House, though it was not accepted for procedural reason. Well, 13 years is a very long time in politics, with Trinamool eventually co-opting a large section of the Left votebank and Mamata Banerjee taking over reins at Writers’ Building in Kolkata. But votebanks can change and be snatched away by another political party, and the BJP can do to Mamata what she did to the Leftists not very long ago. The faster population growth rates in several West Bengal districts bordering Bangladesh, as in North and South 24 Parganas, Murshidabad and Nadia, have fuelled controversy in that State since 1981 census to the most recent one in 2011. A large proportion of Bangladeshi migrants are Hindus, who are estimated to hold the balance of power in over one-fourth of West Bengal’s 294 assembly constituencies. With its bill promising citizenship to Hindu migrants after just six years stay in India, the BJP already has a headstart with this electorate both in West Bengal and Barak Valley of Assam, some political pundits believe. After Tripura spectacularly fell to the saffron surge early this year, the war is being fought uncomfortably closer to home as far as Mamata is concerned. With 2019 Lok Sabha elections just 8 months away and the Citizenship Amendment bill, 2016 likely to come up in Parliament a couple of months earlier in February, this battle line is being clearly drawn. By that time, the NDA could significantly improve its numbers in Rajya Sabha and thereby give a stronger push to this bill. As these political players shadow box over NRC and citizenship bill, it is to the credit of the people of Assam in so far remaining unmoved by all this cynical gamesmanship.

Justice expedited

The fast track trial of Arnamai Bora rape and murder case has ended with the Additional District and Sessions Judge court in Hojai handing down death sentence to one accused and life imprisonment to the other. The dastardly crime had shaken people of Assam to the core; there was a vast outpouring of public grief and anger at what had befallen the headmistress of a primary school in Jamunamukh, an exemplary teacher who thought nothing of taking a boat across the swollen Kopili on that fateful day of 31st May last year rather than miss class. What must be appreciated is that the investigating police officer filed chargesheet within 90 days of the crime against the duo. It also helped that the Prime Minister’s Office took periodic stock of progress in investigation. Such cases are nailed only by dedicated team effort, both in the investigation and trial stages. This serves to restore public faith in the crime fighting machinery as well as delivery of justice, while giving a sense of closure to the victim’s family. In the backdrop of stronger public opinion and the Lok Sabha’s nod to a tougher anti-rape law recently, our expectation is that all rape cases will be treated with due seriousness henceforth.