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Posturing over NRC

The NRC authority in Assam is on course to meet the June 30 deadline to publish the final draft of the citizenship register, as ordered by the Supreme Court. NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hazela has been assuring that while draft NRC is right on schedule, the final NRC document will be published only after all claims and objections are fully disposed off. The first part draft NRC published on December 31 last year contained the names of 1.9 crore people out of total 3.29 crore applicants, so the second part draft NRC will be crucial. Those declared as foreigners earlier by Foreigners Tribunals as well as those declared as doubtful (D) voters will not find their names in the upcoming second part draft NRC. The NRC State Coordinator has made it clear that it is up to the Border Police to send the names of those who are brothers and sisters of declared foreigners to the Foreigners Tribunal, and only after it is decided there can their names be struck off from NRC. The Congress has however alleged that the NRC authority’s motive is not above board here, and it is acting in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines. The party has already raised the bogey that a large number of people in Goalpara, Nagaon and Barak valley districts will be excluded from NRC; it has further warned that no attempt must be made ‘to mix up the NRC update issue with the citizenship amendment bill’. However this is precisely what various political parties and other organisations in the State are doing presently, and the Congress has been no exception either. All kinds of conspiracy theories are being floated to push murky political agendas. Some quarters are alleging that plans are afoot to exclude a large number of Bangladeshi Muslims from NRC, thereby provoking a backlash from rabble rousing Muslim leaders from other parts of the country — which in turn will only play into the hands of the saffron brigade. Others meanwhile are alleging that it will be Bangladeshi Hindus who will be left out from NRC in large numbers, so as to help create the public perception that Assam has finally come under the sway of Bangladeshi Muslims — a scenario that can only lead to irreversible communal polarisation ahead of general elections in 2019. Leaders from either side of the political divide are bandying words about what might happen in the State “after June 30”, casting dark aspersions on the roles of the State NRC authority as well as the Joint Parliamentary panel taking public hearings on the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill. Amidst all this cynical posturing and shrill rhetoric, there is little informed discourse on what constitutes genuine citizenship criteria. Can India afford to remain a soft State, encouraging foreigners to keep silently invading through its porous borders, grab land and hijack its politics? Has not Assam been betrayed in the past by political dispensations at the Centre tweaking citizenship laws to keep their Bangladeshi votebanks intact? The State is again on the boil over another proposed tweaking of citizenship laws to regularise minority refugees (read Hindus) fleeing religious persecution from neighbouring countries. Should we not ask why Congress or BJP led dispensations at the Centre never bothered to lay down a consistent refugee policy in all these years? The ad-hocism over refugee status and citizenship matters has allowed divisive agendas over religion and ethnicity get full play. The outcome has been consistent negation of civilised values and rule of law. The time to see through all this political gamesmanship is now or never.

For the people…
The more things change, the more they remain the same — particularly if it is to do with the nature of power. The long ministerial convoys with their wailing sirens are back. Traffic policemen snarl at common people who have the temerity to be driving their vehicles or taking a walk along roads in Guwahati that the VVIPs will be taking shortly. The powerless have to cool their heels and think peaceful thoughts as they wait at roadsides to let the powerful zoom by. This supposedly “Congressi culture” the incoming BJP-led government in the State had in 2016 promised to end once and for all. The new regime had patted itself on the back even more after the Centre banned the use of red lights atop official vehicles. Two years into its term, this ruling dispensation in Dispur too has found the heady joy of taking the high road, the hoi-polloi be damned. However, when it comes to allowing the public to voice their protest over sundry issues, this government too is at a loss like its predecessor when deciding upon a suitable venue. There is no way such a venue can be allowed anywhere near the centre of power that is Dispur. Thus Dighalipukhuri in the once peaceful heart of the city had become the venue of choice for all those who had some grievance or the other to air. The flip side was that regular dharnas, sit-ins and protest meets near this scenic ancient tank caused huge traffic snarls, an all-too-frequent headache for commuters shuttling between places as far off as Beltola and Narengi-Botahghuli on one side of the city to Jalukbari-Mirza on the other. But surely the powers-be in Dispur are not going to lose any sleep if the public suffers because some of its members chose to protest at an inconvenient place! It now transpires that the Kamrup metro administration has been unable in past 9 months to locate an alternative venue for holding protests, despite an order by Gauhati High Court and the passing of two deadlines. That order last year had come following a PIL by the Lawyers’ Association, Guwahati, and it is reportedly mulling to move the court soon with a contempt petition. It remains to be seen when administrative action will be forthcoming, considering that the State seems to be in perennial agitation mode at present with barely 10 months to go for the next general election.

About the author

Ankur Kalita