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food for thought

Preparing a tiol register of citizens is a massive and complicated exercise, requiring great care and commitment from those tasked with it, starting from the government. The Congress, now in Opposition, is ‘concerned’ about the slowdown in NRC work in Assam. In the ongoing Assembly budget session, its members are asking loaded questions whether the State government is planning to re-verify 6.5 crore documents submitted by NRC applicants, and thereby delay the exercise further. More importantly, it is being asked whether the State government is waiting for passage of the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament, before it gets going to complete the NRC work. The political angle behind these questions is obvious — that the BJP-led government in the State is putting NRC work on hold until Hindu refugees from Bangladesh (coming after 1971) are legitimized as citizens by an amended citizenship law. If such a ‘wait and watch’ strategy is accompanied by rigorous scrutiny of NRC documents, a section of people (traditiolly voting for the Congress?) may be taken out of the NRC equation — so it is being implied. The Sonowal government is putting forward a vigorous defense, that an error-free NRC is more important than harping on a timeframe. It is a fact that the previous Congress government dragged its feet over starting the NRC exercise despite being prodded repeatedly by the Supreme Court. The decision to do so was taken way back in 2005 at a tripartite meet of the Central and State governments with the AASU. Filly, the work commenced in 2010, only to be stalled indefinitely after violence broke out in Barpeta over the pilot project. There were grounds for suspicion that the powers-be in Dispur engineered such an adverse reaction, and took its advantage to stonewall NRC update. The NRC exercise in Assam has thus remained hostage to partisan politics, delayed intermibly with every intention by the party in power to stymie the Supreme Court monitoring the exercise. This offers serious food for thought to all concerned citizens — whether votebank politics can at all be separated from such a constitutiolly important exercise, and how other countries have carried out such tasks.