At 00.02 AM on 1st January 2018, a much waited and historic event happened in Assam. When the entire country was celebrating the arrival of new year, officials were conducting a press conference at that hour! The occasion? Publication of 1st part draft of NRC (National Register of Citizens). In this draft, names of around 1.90 crore people were included, out of around 3.29 crore applications received. This means that these 1.90 crore people are confirmed to be citizens of India residing in Assam as per the provisions of Citizenship Act, and Assam Accord 1985, pending any appeal and complaint. This NRC has been prepared under the watch of Supreme Court of India.
On 3rd January 2018, chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee made some very controversial statements over the NRC issue. Speaking at a public rally, she claimed that names of 1.30 crore people in Assam has been deliberately excluded from NRC draft, and 70 percent of such excluded people are Bengalis. She accused that this has been done as part of a conspiracy to expel Bengalis out of Assam. She further threatened that if Bengalis are expelled from Assam, they will not keep quiet.
Increasing the attack on NRC further, on 4th January TMC MP Saugata Roy made similar comments in Lok Sabha during zero hour. Transcript of his statement as per Lok Sabha website:
“Out of 3.29 crore applications, only 1.9 crore applications have been included. We fear that this a conspiracy to drive out Bengalis from Assam. Our hon. Chief Minister has already said that… (Interruptions). Almost 1.3 crore names of applicants are left out. It is a conspiracy to drive them out. We want that they should be allowed to stay in Assam. They are normal citizens. This is a conspiracy. The name of Shri Badruddin Ajmal, M.P. has been eliminated. This is a serious matter. This is a conspiracy to drive out Bengali-speaking people from Assam. … (Interruptions) They should be allowed to remain in Assam. The Chief Minister, West Bengal has already mentioned that this is a conspiracy.”
These are highly provocative and inflammatory statements the TMC leaders are making, which can instigate communal tension in Assam, a state with history of such tension and violence. Not only that, these false and baseless comments are also contempt of Supreme Court considering they are hurling allegations of communal bias in the process.
Before explaining how this is false and mischievous, a brief about NRC.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the register containing names of Indian CITIZENS. The only time that a NRC was prepared was in 1951 when after completion of the Census of 1951, the NRC was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during that Census. One of the demands during Assam agitation, asking for deportation of illegal immigrants was that the NRC should be updated, and it was included in Assam Accord signed after end of the agitation. As per the accord, anyone who was residing in Assam up to mid-night of 24th March, 1971 will be eligible to be included in the updated register. But due to opposition from various groups, mostly from minority (Muslim) organisations, this process could not be started for decades.
Finally, the process started in 2015, after several interventions by Supreme Court as response to petitions by several organisations in Assam. It started with publication of legacy data on NRC Assam website, where soft copies of NRC of 1951 and electoral roles up to 1971 were uploaded. The data was also available for offline access at various centres. People had to find their ancestor’s names in legacy data, and attach the details with the NRC application form, along with proof of linkage of other members of family with the person whose name appears in legacy data. Indian citizens who moved to Assam after 1971 had to provide proof that they, or their ancestors, were citizens of India before that date.
After the submission of applications, came the arduous task of verification of crores of documents submitted. 31st December 2017 was determined as the date of publication of NRC draft. But work of verification got delayed, and both central and state governments wanted to postpone the date to 31st July 2018. But Supreme Court refused the extend the deadline, and ordered that part draft be published on 31st December.
So, a partially completed draft was published at midnight on 1st January, with around 1.90 crore names. But the important point to note is that this DOES NOT mean the rest 1.39 crore applications (out of total 3.29 crore) have been rejected and excluded from NRC. This just means that these applications are in various stages of verification, the necessary processes on them have not been completed yet, and that’s why these are not included in the part draft. Only after the final draft is published, we will know how many applications are rejected. Hence the allegations of TMC leaders are completely wrong.
Interesting to note that Mamata has threatened to not keep quite if Bengali people are excluded from NRC, but she didn’t specify which Bengalis was she talking about. It is almost certain that some illegal immigrants from Bangladesh will not find their name in NRC, while people who have come from West Bengal need not worry, as long as they submit valid proof of citizenship. Now one wonders why TMC should be worried about Bangladeshis? And if they are genuinely worried about people of WB origin, why don’t they send the verified document for those people who have submitted documents from WB. As per Assam govt sources, 1,11,482 documents were sent to WB govt for verification, but till now WB govt have sent back only 5,852 documents after verification, which means they verified only 5% of the documents sent to them. If Mamata Banerjee is truly worried about the people who have migrated to Assam from WB, she should arranged quicker verification of the submitted documents, instead of making baseless comments. Note that such cases are pending with most other states, and altogether only 30% documents have been received from other states, which is another reason for delay in the process.
While opposing partial draft publication on 31st December, government had argued in court that publishing such incomplete document may create fear and confusion among people, especially those with names missing, and may even lead to law and order situation. Although nothing serious happened in first couple of days, now the TMC is trying to make the apprehension of the government to come true. People whose names are not in the draft, know it is a partial draft, Saugata Roy mentioned AIUDF leader Badaruddin Ajmal’s name being eliminated, but even AIUDF is not making such allegation. But if TMC leaders continue to make such inflammatory statements, some people may get confused, others will get fuel to spread rumours, and this may lead to law and order problems.
On 4th January, demonstrations were held in various places in Assam protesting the comments of Mamata Banerjee and her effigies were burnt. Several people also filed complaints against the WB CM for promoting enmity between groups, contempt of court etc. Police has filed FIR against her in one complaint filed by an advocate. It is expected that they will merge other complaints with this one. Prominent Bengali people from Assam have also criticised Mamata Banerjee for her comments, saying people from outside Assam need not get involved in this and they are capable of protecting their rights on their own.
Assam government also condemned the statements made by WB CM. But a condemnation is certainly not enough. The Assam Government should officially lodge a protest with the West Bengal Government, and also should file a complaint with Supreme Court. Given Assam’s delicate demographic situation, any such comment can act as a spark. So this must not go uncontested at official level, and we can only hope that the Supreme Court will not take it lightly.