Of Meddlesome CMs

Assam CMs

Chief ministers of Indian States have so much to do in their own States that there should really be no time for them to be meddling in the affairs of other States. We are not going into the question of how reprehensible or graceless the activity is, because people can judge this for themselves. However, Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal seems to have all the time in the world to be meddling in the affairs of Assam. Ever since the updated draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951 of Assam was published on July 30, 2018, Mamata Banerjee has been exceptionally busy making gratuitous and incendiary statements on the updated NRC of Assam and organizing a team of the Trinamool Congress to visit this State. Had Mamata Banerjee merely questioned the accuracy and reliability of the updated NRC, no one might have taken any serious objection to her views. But on Tuesday, she wondered whether the politics of divide and rule could lead to civil war and cited this as the main reason why India needed a change of guard at the top in 2019. This is the kind of remark on non-political matters that is definitely calculated to trigger off the kind of civil war that she talks of. If any civil war erupts, she would have only herself to blame for triggering it off. One would like to know where she discovers the politics of “divide and rule” in the simple and long-pending exercise of updating the NRC of 1951. It is a demographic exercise that should be undertaken and completed in all the States of India. Besides, she has not clearly stated how a simple demographic exercise of correcting and updating the NRC could “trigger off” any kind of civil war.

The updated NRC of Assam is not really a matter of concern for Mamata Banerjee. This is a view substantiated not merely by the fact she happens to be the Chief Minister of a neighbouring state and not of Assam, but also by the fact that when Assam had sent several lakh documents related to the updating of the NRC for verification by the West Bengal government, only a very small percentage of the documents were verified. The remaining documents were returned just as they had been sent—without any verification. This is the kind of responsibility for any serious work evinced by Mamata Banerjee’s government. In fact, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India said on Wednesday that West Bengal was the biggest defaulter in the NRC verification process pertaining to people who belong to a different State but live in Assam due to various reasons. Thus, there is every reason to wonder why Mamata Banerjee should now be so concerned about the correctness or reliability of the updated NRC of Assam as to disrupt proceedings in the Rajya Sabha for four days in a row.

Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to the publication of the final draft of the updated NRC is rightly regarded by the Assam government as amounting to contempt of court (since the entire exercise of updating the NRC was mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court). The logical course of action is to sue Mamata Banerjee so that she would be forced to think 10 times before embarking on similar meddlesome activities in other States. However, the reasons for Mamata Banerjee embarking on such gratuitous courses of action are not far to seek. One of her serious ambitions has been to actively support the cause of a greater Bengal regardless of the implications of such ambitions on States other than her own. The deletion of over four million names from the NRC has come as a major blow to her because a major part of this number comprises illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who could have turned Assam into a Bengali majority State. No wonder, she has been so prompt to assure those whose names do not figure in the updated NRC of Assam that they are welcome to shift to West Bengal. This would be a huge gain to the size of her vote bank, regardless of what it might do to the increase of population in an already overpopulated State. What needs to be appreciated is that if over four million names have been deleted from the updated NRC of Assam, it is because these people tried to get their names into the NRC without having the requisite proof of being Indian citizens.