The NRC issue in Assam brings up larger questions for the government to answer

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NEW DELHI: The row over the NRC draft issue in Assam has boiled over into a full-fledged partisan fight as the BJP pushes for the same procedure in West Bengal. BJP state general secretary of West Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya said if the party comes to power in the state, updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be done in the state, saying in part, “The NRC will definitely be conducted in Bengal if the BJP comes to power here as it is also facing severe infiltration issues”.

 

As West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came out strongly against the NRC issue in Assam, she has made comments citing a civil war and bloodbath in the aftermath of the citizenship issue in Assam referring to the BJP aiming to divide people. Two leaders of her party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) quit in protest after the remarks were made. A state wide protest was organised last week after a delegation of party MP’s and MLA’s were detained at the Silchar airport by the Assam police.

The position of the Congress, while firmly against the BJP on this issue did sow the seeds of this through the Assam Accord in 1985; it aimed to deport undocumented foreigners residing in the state. The recent by-election results in West Bengal have show the BJP expanding its voter base in the state. Their core constituent is the Hindu Bengali vote and they have cast the TMC as a party in favor of illegal immigrants.

As lakhs of people have been left out, they have been called infiltrators. However, the NRC State Coordinator for Assam said that those who were left out cannot be marked as illegal immigrants. While the central government has assured those who have been left out that they will be able to apply for claims and objections, the question remains as to how this would be processed and who can be accommodated.

The issue at the core is immigration and citizenship. Critics of the NRC issue in Assam have pointed out the cynical nature of the way the BJP has used this issue to talk about migration and electoral politics. The party is treating the issue in Assam as an isolated case but as stated earlier, other party leaders have not been silent on the necessity for a similar exercise in other states, particularly border states. In his column for the Hindu, Shiv Visvanathan, an academic with Compost Heap, furthers the point Mamata Banerjee made, writing in part, “She might be dismissed as a rabble rouser, but it is she who is pointing out that the BJP is playing on the anxieties of people, rousing old hates between Bengal and Assam”.

BJP President Amit Shah has talked about the issue as Assam as a way of adopting a tough stand when it comes to national security. This is the main tenant of the NRC issue that often goes overlooked in terms of the BJP’s reasoning. The concept of the other, immigrants entering and assimilating into the country is something that BJP might be uncomfortable with. As Shiv Visvanathan continues in his column, “Mr. Shah’s response was a giveaway because it puts the idea of security within a populist framework, where demographic and cultural anxiety becomes the raw material for emerging vote banks. A register which began as a routine, even clinical exercise now acquires a Machiavellian shadow”.

Meghalaya is another state that’s seeking a similar NRC list to be created to weed out illegal citizens. A memo was sent to the Prime Minister through the office of Meghalaya governor Ganga Prasad, the chairman of the Grand Council of Chiefs of Meghalaya John F. Kharshiing said the matter in Assam is of concern to citizens of Meghalaya. He stated in part, “The foreign nationals problem in Meghalaya was directly inherited from Assam and hence the Centre should have applied the same principles to the state of Meghalaya”.

The questions that arise out of Assam are not necessarily being addressed; a framework and model for citizenship for marginal groups and those who have come here decades ago. The policymakers would heed to answers these questions and look at these uncomfortable and complex issues as they will have an impact for decades.

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