The long-term benefits to Assam from an updated NRC is being deviously sought to be sacrificed at the altar of short-term political gain, bearing grave implications for the future of the State’s indigenous people.
The likelihood of electoral rolls for the 2016 Assam assembly elections to be based upon an updated tiol register of citizens (NRC) is almost nil. It took the Election Commission to give a reality check when the Chief Election Commissioner stated in Guwahati that the NRC update exercise is ‘separate’ from the preparation of electoral rolls. Pointing out that the NRC exercise is being conducted independently under Supreme Court orders, CEC Dr sim Zaidi, however, made it clear that the EC is ‘not mandated to find out about the NRC’. The NRC exercise in the State is still very much a work in progress, though it is becoming increasingly clear that it does not enjoy Dispur’s goodwill. The fact that it started much late and that too at the Supreme Court’s repeated prodding, the all-too-frequent goof-ups in the form filling-up stage, covert attempts to distract officials by piling on other responsibilities upon them — clearly indicate a very influential quarter in the State government hard at work to sabotage it. As recently as December 1 last, the Supreme Court had to sternly order the State government not to deploy the 34,000 officials involved in the NRC exercise for any other work. Dispur’s plea was hilarious — that the State government would ‘come to a standstill’ as this court directive would hamper the implementation of welfare schemes and other projects! “Come to us with the concerned issue when the government comes to a standstill,” the bench had then shot back to the State government’s counsels. During its two-day visit to Assam, the full Election Commission was briefed by officials about the NRC process, while an AASU delegation met it to urge preparation of electoral rolls on the basis of an updated NRC. Later, fielding questions from jourlists, the CEC blandly commented that when the NRC exercise ‘is completed’, the commission will look into the matter.
So when will the NRC exercise be completed? The Supreme Court, after reviewing the status of work in October, had to push back the deadline from January 1 to March 1 of 2016. When the State government pleaded further extension of the deadline, the Supreme Court in its December 1 hearing rejected it while asking whether the government needed more funds, manpower or infrastructure. It then transpired at the hearing that the cost of the NRC exercise had risen from the initially estimated Rs 288 crore to Rs 660 crore, and that the Centre had already received this revised estimate from the Assam government. Petitioners like the AASU and APW at the Supreme Court have taken the stand that there can be no compromise with a correct, foolproof NRC. Be as it may, it now appears hardly possible that the NRC exercise will be completed by the revised deadline of March 1 next, with reports of grave irregularities in legacy claims and documents furnished surfacing frequently. Even if by some miracle the March 1 NRC deadline is met, will it have any last-minute impact upon the electoral rolls? That is not at all likely, with most of the political parties in the State pressing upon the EC to hold elections before Rongali Bihu in mid-April. So the design by interested quarters to push the NRC update exercise in Assam beyond the 2016 assembly elections, is now near certain to be a fait accompli. The EC has stressed upon holding free and fair elections with a tough stand against use of money and muscle power; it has laid emphasis on error-free electoral roll and on elimiting the gap between the voters’ list and census figures. But the core problem will not go away — that the latest electoral rolls of 2014 remains saddled with the mes of lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. These are the same electoral rolls which the Tarun Gogoi government tried hard to push as the basis for updated NRC, which was thankfully rejected by the Supreme Court. But the back-pedalling by this government looks set to ensure that an updated NRC will not figure anywhere in the assembly electoral battle next year. The long-term benefits to Assam from an updated NRC is being deviously sought to be sacrificed at the altar of short-term political gain, bearing grave implications for the future of the State’s indigenous people.