Assam Public Works' complaint triggers larger question on NRC
The NGO whose petition in the Supreme Court had led to the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has alleged widespread manipulation, including elementary data entry fraud, in the exercise.
The unverified allegation unwittingly brings to the fore the question how reliable such a nationwide exercise can be if even one state could not prevent purported foul play in spite of the exercise being monitored by the Supreme Court and with a BJP-led government in power in Assam when the data was verified.
The questions — and the very basic nature of the allegations — assume significance because the BJP, depending on the geography and demography, occasionally makes noises about replicating the update in the rest of the country and protecting its vote banks that could be affected by the exercise.
The Assam update had wider ramifications. Matters had not played out in line with the BJP’s wishes when the updated NRC in August 2019 excluded 19.07 lakh applicants.
It was assumed that many of those excluded were Hindus, not Muslims as the saffron ecosystem had hoped for, prompting the BJP to pick holes in the data and promise the non-Muslims succour through the Citizenship Amendment Act. The grand design was captured in the infamous “chronology samajh lijiye” cry attributed to Union home minister Amit Shah.
The plan had ignited months-long protests in Assam — local parties wanted all illegal migrants, regardless of religion, to be excluded — and the rest of India, where the citizenship matrix was seen as a larger plan to target Muslims.
Now, the apolitical NGO, Assam Public Works (APW), has filed a complaint with the Assam CID, accusing former state coordinator Prateek Hajela and his close associates of “manipulating” the family tree of applicants to enlist names of foreigners in the updated register.
All the NRC applicants were required to provide their family tree, listing details of multiple generations, to the verifying officials on field visits.
Hajela, an Assam-Meghalaya-cadre IAS officer appointed by the Supreme Court to coordinate the exercise who became a whipping boy for the BJP once the data failed to match its expectations, could not be contacted for comment. He now works in Madhya Pradesh.
“We suspect Hajela and his close associates, in collaboration with some officers with migrant background, data entry operators and some minority leaders with some anti-national elements, have used the government mechanism to insert the names of the illegal migrants in the updated NRC,” APW president Aabhijeet Sharma said in his complaint filed on June 21.
The APW had started complaining about the data when the first draft was published in 2018, by when the BJP had already been in power in Assam for two years.
When the updated NRC was published on August 31, 2019, several organisations, including the APW, and the BJP-led government had expressed concern that suspected illegal migrants may have got their names included in the register.
The NGO has now come out with the alleged modus operandi. Sharma, the APW president, alleged that the update was not done properly as the data entry operators and verification officers working in the immigrant-dominated areas were from the immigrant community.
The APW called for analysing the call records of the officers and the data entry operators to unearth an alleged nexus.
Those left out of the NRC can appeal for inclusion at the foreigners’ tribunals with documents but this process has not yet started.