NRC in Assam again? Amit Shah says yes
Union home minister Amit Shah threw a bombshell in Parliament today by announcing that the mammoth National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise would be carried out once again in Assam.
“NRC ki prakriya desh bhar mein hogi. Us waqt Assam ke andar bhi yeh NRC ki prakriya swabhavik roop se phir se ki jayegi (the NRC process will be done across the country. At that time, in the natural course of events, the NRC will be redone in Assam),” Shah told the Rajya Sabha.
Soon afterwards, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the powerful Assam BJP leader, held a news conference to say that the current NRC in Assam, released on August 31, was unacceptable.
The home minister's announcement comes days after the retirement of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, who was seen as the driving force behind the Assam NRC.
Shah and Sarma’s statements reinforce the impression that the BJP is unhappy with the NRC as a sizeable number of the 19 lakh state residents who haven’t made it to the list are Hindus. Till date, neither the Assam government, nor the Centre, has come out with any information on the people who were left out of the list. Officially, neither the central BJP leadership, nor the Centre, has ever expressed disappointment with the list.
Shah's point on Assam today came couched in his reiteration that the NRC exercise -- that should ideally separate Indian citizens from illegal migrants -- would be carried out across the country.
The possibility that a huge number of Hindus have been left out is thought to be the reason why the Centre is keen on quickly pushing through the Citizenship Amendment Bill that will allow Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in the country, even if they do not possess any documents. The only people left out of the bill are Muslims.
If the BJP's main worry was about protecting the Hindus struck off the Assam NRC list, the citizenship bill could come in handy, was the oft-heard political wisdom. There was a reason for it, too. In an October rally in Bengal, PTI reported Shah saying: 'People of Bengal are being misled on the NRC.... I assure all Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain refugees that they won’t have to leave the country. They will get Indian citizenship and enjoy all the rights of an Indian national.”
Today's Rajya Sabha speech by Shah adds more fuel to the suspicion that the BJP sees the Assam NRC as a bit of a self-goal. The official position of Assam's pro-NRC parties, such as the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and Assam BJP leaders, was that many undeserving people had been included and legitimate citizens left out of the list. Hence, their unhappiness.
The home minister's utterance, however, has raised other doubts. What would happen to the 19 lakh excluded from the final NRC list? Is the estimated Rs 1,600 crore spent on the process a complete waste? Will the Supreme Court monitor the entire process again?
On August 31, when the final NRC was released in Assam, BJP leader Sarma expressed his displeasure at the outcome. He claimed the data was manipulated by some sides to exclude many Bengali Hindu migrants.
Sarma, in his news conference today, said: “The present NRC document is not an acceptable document, so it should be rejected.... Home minister Amit Shah has said there will be a national NRC. After the Citizenship bill, a new NRC will be done so that there is no confusion.”
According to the Assam Accord of 1985, the NRC process in Assam considered March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for immigrants. Sarma said that if it is 1971 for Assam, then it should be the same for the entire country or vice-versa. He said that Assam shouldn’t have a unique NRC.
On August 31, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was also on the same page with Sarma on the NRC.
Today, AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said: “We are not happy about the results, some errors are there (in the list). We have appealed for remedial measure before the Supreme Court.”
Bhattacharya pointed out that both the governments in Assam and Delhi had filed an affidavit for an NRC reverification. He also said that there should be an NRC for the whole country.
The Supreme Court will hear the appeals related to the NRC on November 26.