The National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam, eagerly awaited by the country, will be published today. The notion created so far as been that the issue of citizenship existing for decades will be resolved with the release of the offical conclusion about who are citizens and who the aliens.
But the latest indications are that this cannot ensure even a partial resolution, and there is increasing apprehension that the NRC will pave way to more communal polarization and division. Probably in realisation of this, as preparation for the release of the list, the stae government has made stringent security restrictions. In places marked as disturance-affected, prohibitory orders have been declared and more central forces deployed. It has also been declared that those excluded from NRC will be granted sufficient time for legal recourse in the matter.
The partition of Bengal by the British government, and of the country in 1947, the subsequent violent communal riots, and the Indo-Pak war in 1971 that led to the formation of Bangladesh have all caused massive exodus of refugees from Bangladesh to Assam. Later, a general feeling crystallized that such 'íllegal' immigrants got into the voters' list and started snatching the rights and privileges of the natives. The mainstream political parties, with eye on the vote bank, decided to make political capital out of it as they saw fit for each time. That led to the anti-foreignger, anti-immigraton agitations in Assam since 1979. The anti-immigrant sentiment soon gave way to racial hatred and in February 1983 in Nelli, central Assam, anti-Muslim riots became a massacre aimed at extermination of around 3,000 people within a span of six hours aross 14 villages. And the immigrant issue remained a boiling hot pot trigerring subsenquent riots, that happened intermittently. Finally, the Congress-led central government signed a pact on 15 August 1985 with the organizations that had spearheaded the riot - All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the All-Assam Ganasangram Parishad. According to the terms of this deal, those who migrated to the state prior to 1 January 1966 would be deemed citizens.
People who migrated between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1971 will be identified as per the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order 1964 , will be excluded from voters list for ten years and then re-included. Those who migrated on or after 25 March 1971 will be identified, treated as foreigner and deported. Although the agreement was signed in 1985, Congress government, swayed by the vote bank, did not move forward with efforts to implement it. After two decades, in 2005 the leader of the agitation and current chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal approached the Supreme Court with the plaint that due to the inadequacy of the law existing at the time, determination of immigration was getting delayed. The apex court annulled the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 transferred all related cases to be governed by the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964. The same year, Manmohan Singh government decided to renew the national register of citizens. In 2013 the Supreme Court asked the government to complete the technical tasks for preparation of the final register. Then came the Supreme Court intervention in 2015 whereby the work of renewing the register started under the direct supervision of the court.
The Congress and the BJP - and the Assam United Front that was formed in the meantime - capitalized on the community votes from to time in the name of citizens' register. The BJP government that came to power in 2014 made an electoral promise that non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh will be guaranteed citizenship. After coming to power, on 15 July 2016, the government passed the Citizenship Amendmen Act that would grant citizenship to the migrant population from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Chrstian communities. Although strong agitations were held against this, the BJP is adamant on its stand that the citizenship amendment legslation should be on the basis of religious communities.
When the draft register, made under the supervision of Supreme Court was released last year, 40.07 lakh people were excluded from it. With the Hindu migrants also being excluded in addiion to Muslims, the BJP which had gone whole hog for the register and consequent actions with a racial prejudice, lost its steam. It is in this context that the government made the advance declaration that those who are excluded with be allowed sufficient time for legal redress. The state president of BJP has called on the 40 lakh party workers in the state to render all help to those who were 'excluded by error' from the list. The Centre has put forward a suggestion to set up 1,000 Foreigners Tribunals across the state after 1 September 2019. The question is what to do with those who are slapped the 'foreigner' stamp. There has not been any negotiation with Bangladesh regarding sending them back to where they came from. Then they will have to be accommodated in detention centres to be set up within the staate. And its implications on a range of aspects from national security to the country's democratic image will also have to be tackled. It is amidst such a confusion that the NRC is coming out today, sapping the enthusiasm of the quarters, previously overzealous about its publication. Will it become a solution to the problem or lead to a further complicated issue is something to be waited for and seen.