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NRC, BJP's stand on migrants heat up Assam politics

POSTED ON 20 JUNE 2015

wasbir hussain
executive director, cdps & visiting fellow, ipcs

The issue of ‘citizenship’ has once again reached centre-stage in Assam ahead of the State Assembly polls, due next year. The State Government this time seems bent on coming up with an updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), a mammoth exercise monitored by the Supreme Court. The deadline for the final NRC is January 31 next year, but still there are organizations and individuals who are pressing for the cut-off date of 1951 instead of 1971. For anyone to apply for inclusion of his or her name in the NRC, his or her name or the name of the applicant’s ancestors must figure in the 1951 NRC or in any voter list up to the midnight of March 24, 1971, the cut-off date agreed upon in the Assam Accord signed in 1985 to mark the end of the six-year-long uprising in the State against illegal migrants from Bangladesh. A dozen other documents are listed out by the authorities which would be acceptable for the purpose.

A brand new NRC is expected to resolve the issue of illegal migration or illegal migrants living in Assam once and for all. The idea is simple—all bonafide citizens will be listed in the NRC and the rest will be subject to scrutiny. That is supposed to make the process of detecting the illegal migrants (read illegal Bangladeshi migrants) easier. But, the BJP, hoping to wrest power in Assam, has vigorously revived an apparently old promise saying the party would provide Indian citizenship to all Hindu Bengali migrants from Bangladesh and have been living in India. BJP president Amit Shah has said Hindu refugees from Bangladesh would be given citizenship if his party were to win the Assam elections next year. Assam BJP president Siddhartha Bhattacharya told me Hindus have been facing ‘persecution’ in Bangladesh and India was their natural choice to migrate.

The Narendra Modi Government, by way of examples, have granted citizenship to more than 4,200 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan during its first year in office. This is almost four times the number during the previous five years of UPA rule. If the Centre is to translate this promise to reality, the BJP could benefit politically in the Bengali dominated southern Assam. Actual execution of this promise may run into hurdles as groups like the KMSS, led by activist Akhil Gogoi, are opposed to the idea and wants all illegal migrants to be treated in a similar manner, not on religious lines. “If the Centre wants to settle the post-1971 migrants in Gujarat, we have no problems. They cannot stay in Assam,” Akhil Gogoi has been quoted as saying. By the way, the ruling Congress in Assam, for fear of being left behind, has raised a similar demand—granting citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh.

I predict the following scenario, considering the migrants’ issue is so critical to poll verdicts in Assam: it is possible the Hindu migrants would secure Indian citizenship, and the illegal migrants who are Muslims would continue to stay on in Assam without much of a disturbance! After all, New Delhi-Dhaka relations is turning out to be cosy after Narendra Modi has become Prime Minister, perhaps the best relations that India has had with Bangladesh in a long time. And the Modi Government may not want to prick Bangladesh or the Sheikh Hasina regime by raising the issue. If this turns out to be correct, New Delhi also may not press Dhaka for a treaty to deal with the migrants and make it obligatory for Bangladesh to take back those declared by the Indian legal system as nationals from that country.

Well, there is no denying the fact that there are illegal migrants in Assam who must be detected and expelled. What is also true is that not all Muslims wearing skull caps and lungis who live in the char or riverine areas are illegal migrants. The fact also remains that these people are facing a tug-of-war for years with political parties dragging them to their fold. If the Congress and the fairly new AIUDF are trying to woo them to their side for votes in 2016, can the BJP in Assam openly declare it is not interested in their votes? Obviously not. Therefore, I predict politics over the issue of migration to go on without any real movement on detection and deportation of those confirmed as illegal migrants. Everything is fair in love and polls!

(courtesy:The Sentinel )