NRC exclusion of lakhs reflects BJP's divisive game of numbers
The exclusion of over 40 lakh applicants in the final draft of the National Register of Citizens in Assam has caused widespread anxiety with regard to their future. The Supreme Court has provided a 60-day window to those who have been excluded, starting from September 25, to file their claims and objections in order to secure a place in the final register. In this backdrop, the diatribe by the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party that “crores of Bangladeshi infiltrators” are eating away at jobs and resources like “termites” has given away the BJP’s divisive game plan.
The genesis of the NRC updating process lies in a judgment by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court that was delivered in December 2014. The judgment relied upon the answer to a parliamentary question provided by the then minister of state for home affairs which stated that “the estimated number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants into India as on 31st December, 2001 was 1.20 crore, out of which 50 lakh were in Assam.” The home ministry’s basis for arriving at this number was accepted by the apex court on face value. The home ministry has not been able to provide any evidence to back up this claim; the claim is not based on any transparent estimation or detection process either.
Rather, the information made available by the state government on its website vis-à-vis the action taken on the clauses of the 1985 Assam Accord reveals that only 42,303 persons could be detected as “foreigners” (post-1971 stream) till March 2016. The population of Assam as per the 2011 census was around 3.12 crore. This implies that the number of declared “foreigners” remained a minuscule 0.1 per cent of the 2011 population.
While the total population growth rate in Assam exceeded the national average in the 1950s and 1960s, reflecting substantial influx of people, it fell below the all-India average between 1971-1991 (there was no population census in Assam in 1981) and has remained below the national average between 1991-2001 and 2001-2011. The number of NRC applicants at 3.29 crore implies that the population in Assam had increased by around 17 lakh from 2011 till end-August 2015 when the NRC application process was closed. This shows that Assam’s population has increased by only around 5.4 per cent in four years (2011-2015) which signifies a further drop in the population growth rate in the present decade compared to the 17.6 per cent growth in the 10 years between 2001-2011.
The fact that there was a substantial influx of refugees from the 1950s to the 1970s, not only into Assam but also other states like West Bengal and Tripura, is well known. Since the Assam Accord of 1985, however, demographic data do not suggest any large-scale population influx into Assam.
What would be the future of those persons who would be excluded from the final NRC? The Bangladesh government officially views the NRC as India’s domestic problem, and has indicated its unwillingness to consider the deportation of people from Assam. Putting pressure on Bangladesh or acting unilaterally would increase bitterness with a friendly neighbour. Assam currently has six detention centres, housed in existing jails, where around 900 detenues detected through the foreigners’ tribunals are being held. The Centre has recently sanctioned another detention centre with a capacity of 3,500. This indicates that the destiny of a section of the NRC excluded people will be indefinite incarceration.
A just solution can emerge only if chauvinistic passions are abandoned in favour of reason. Instead of persecuting the NRC excluded population, a general amnesty should be considered and citizenship granted to all applicants without any discrimination. Concerns regarding illegal immigration from Bangladesh should be addressed through measures to improve border security, as suggested by the Supreme Court. This can succeed only with cooperation from Bangladesh. This is the direction in which we need to move.