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NRC and Voters’ Lists

Most people have found it difficult to understand why there should be separate enumerations of Indian citizens living in Assam for different requirements. Each mode of enumeration is a highly expensive process, and it should, therefore, be deemed sufficient to have one comprehensive list of Indian citizens living in Assam, from which the names of non-voters can be removed for the voters’ list of the State. But over the last few years, when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam was being updated, there was no indication by our bureaucrats that any of them was even remotely interested in working for the creation of a comprehensive list of the Indian citizens of Assam which could be used as a master list for the creation of other lists like the electoral roll. The focus was totally on the updating of the NRC of 1951 as if there was no need for any other list for any other purpose. This is an attitude to the compilation of such lists of citizens for one of the poorer States of the country that would seem quite unacceptable for a State with limited resources. It is in this context that the suggestion of HS Brahma, former Chief Election Commissioner, about our electoral roll acquires special significance.

On Thursday, HS Brahma suggested that the electoral roll of Assam should be revised immediately after the final NRC is published as only Indian citizens have the right to vote and elect their representatives in India. He was of the view that the move to update the NRC was a very positive step and lauded the efforts of the State and the Union governments, the officers involved in the process and the Supreme Court which has been constantly monitoring the process. He said that the publication of the draft of the NRC had given an idea of the number of illegal migrants living in the State, but that the exact figure would be known only after the publication of the final NRC, following the disposal of the claims and objections and possible court cases. Hailing the publication of the draft as a positive step, Brahma hoped that the process would be taken to its logical conclusion under the supervision of the Supreme Court so that the illegal migrants could be identified. Brahma drew attention to the fact that since the partition of the country everyone was aware of how people were illegally migrating to Assam from the East Pakistan of those days and present Bangladesh, but that no one exactly knew the gravity of the problem. Brahma said that though the NRC was compiled following the 1951 census, it had not been updated. He was of the view that the NRC of 1951 should have been updated periodically, but that this had not been done. Brahma was of the view that immediately after the final NRC is published the electoral rolls of the State should be “purified” on the basis of the final NRC. This is a welcome suggestion not only because it establishes the link between different enumeration processes of citizens but because it is an acknowledgement of the fact that a country like ours should have a comprehensive list of citizens from which the electoral roll can be compiled.

What does not go down very well with most citizens of India is that India should be at all in touch with Bangladesh on a matter like the final draft of the NRC. The updating of the NRC is an internal matter for India, and there can be no justification for India being apologetic about taking a very vital demographic initiative very belatedly to a country like Bangladesh that has the largest number of illegal migrants in India. It is humiliating for every Indian to find our government taking a conciliatory stance with any country about very justified punitive action being taken against nationals of that country who are in India illegally. Are we trying to make amends for irresponsible bureaucrats who did nothing about large-scale illegal immigration to India by foreigners for decades? Or is our government trying to tell Bangladesh not to lose any sleep over this large-scale illegal immigration of Bangladeshis to India? If over 40 lakh names can be deleted from the updated NRC, it stands to reason that most of the names would be of foreign nationals who were able to walk into our State because no one would accept any responsibility for keeping illegal immigrants out.

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