Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi speaking at a book launch event of journalist and author Mrinal Talukdar has slammed the media for its skewed reportage about National Registry for Citizens (NRC). CJI Gogoi also spoke at length about the need for an NRC in Assam and elsewhere at the event. The book that CJI was launching was ‘POST- COLONIAL ASSAM’ (1947-2019), written by Talukdar.
CJI Gogoi started by explaining why he was at the book launch. He said, “I am not one amongst those whom you would come across at book-launches, but I decided to join this one as I was truly impressed by the idea and the project that Mrinal has been pursuing with dogged diligence and devotion, titled “Nanda Talukdar Social History Project” which aims, among others, at documenting the epoch-making post-independence developments and events in Assam like the National Register of Citizens (NRC) etc that have left a mark in the social history of Assam”.
History of Assam and the need for NRC
CJI Gogoi said that the history of Assam is long and turbulent and while the people of Assam have made the nation proud, it has faced a troublesome history with “severe socio-economic crisis stemming from industrial strikes, agrarian struggles, and natural calamities including frequent floods. Added to this, widespread agitations and resultant violence have deeply impacted socio-political life in Assam”.
He says that perhaps the one issue that has troubled Assam the most is the issue of illegal immigration that has dominated all aspects of life for the people of Assam and even the narrative emanating from the state.
“Political mobilisation and actions in this regard have resulted in over four decades of political turmoil and instability. There are numerous accounts of how the student agitation got initiated and progressed to give voice to a long-standing grievance, most vividly articulated in the famous 3D demands of the year around 1978 i.e. detection, deletion and deportation”.
CJI says that the subsequent decades saw all political parties coming together to tackle this problem and one could see the widespread support it drew from the people of Assam. “For the next four decades suspicion, panic and hostility fed continuously by furious political rhetoric and relentless violence became the new normal, with the state machinery remaining unable or unwilling to tackle it”, he said.
He said that one has to then figure out how at the policy level, such issues can be tackled “that is capable of fostering diversity while providing a framework for cultivation and expression of shared basic values and common interests”.
“The Assam Accord of 1985 and its concomitant features – the introduction of Section 6A in the Citizenship Act and the promise of a National Register of Citizens was an attempt to evolve a solution through the legal framework. What are the results? Section 6A is waiting for a nod from the Supreme Court while the NRC is not without contestations. The NRC is neither new nor a novel idea. It found expression as early as in the year 1951 and in the particular context of Assam, in 1985 following the Assam Accord. In fact, the current NRC is an attempt to update the 1951 NRC. Prior to this exercise, the whole discourse had been repeatedly fed with an enormous amount of guesswork as to the number of illegal migrants, which in turn fuelled panic, fear and vicious cycles of lawlessness and violence”.
CJI Gogoi said that this exercise is necessary to ascertain, with some amount of certainty, the number of illegal immigrants and that is what NRC aims to do. In fact, CJI Gogoi said that NRC is the “most peaceful means by which the stakeholders seek to remedy the wrongs and omissions of that turbulence, whose effects changed the courses of lives of not only individuals but of communities and cultures across the region. Those changes have had cascading effects, down the generations. The cascade still operates, in indescribable ways and manifestations”.
People who raise objections are playing with fire
CJI Gogoi said that the wounds of the past haven’t healed for Assam yet and there is no place now for any political conundrum.
“The Assamese people have displayed great magnanimity and large-heartedness in accepting various cut-off dates, for the purposes of preparation of the NRC, that are at a considerable distance from the time when the first onslaught of forced migration hit them or their ancestors. This humaneness is ‘acceptance’, that is one of the first steps towards inclusivity. It needs to be told and brought on record that people who raise objections, including to these cut-off dates, are playing with fire”, said CJI Gogoi.
CJI Ranjan Gogoi slams ‘arm-chair commentators’ and the Media
Slamming the media, CJI Gogoi said that the media commentary on NRC has made matters worse and so has the emergence of arm-chair commentators who are far divorced from ground realities.
“At this cross-road, we need to keep in mind that our national discourse has witnessed the emergence of arm-chair commentators who are not only far removed from ground realities, but also seek to present a highly distorted picture. The emergence of the social media and its tools have also fuelled the intent of such commentators, who thrive through their ‘doublespeak’ language sitting in the confines and comforts of their spaces. They launch baseless and motivated tirades against democratic functionalities and institutions, seeking to hurt them and bring down their due processes. These commentators, and their vile intentions, do survive well in situations where facts are far removed from the citizenry, and rumour-mills flourish”, he said.
CJI Gogoi said that Assam too has faced this issue with arm-chair commentators who are far removed from reality have questioned the due process and the vital steps being taken to usher in a new era of peaceful co-existence leading to overall prosperity and progress of the region.
While the CJI emphasised that the process of NRC is more of acceptance and that we need to accept diversity, he questioned the fourth estate and how it handles such reportage.
“It is our duty to participate in the political life of the community, the society and the state as public citizens. Without such involvement, there remains the danger of becoming irrelevant and sinking into cynicism, endlessly creating and diagnosing problems without playing any part in solving them. One can see this happening these days, in the manner in which working of the institutions are assessed, especially by the media and particularly on social media. A case in point would be the nature of reporting about the whole NRC process, and institutions engaged therein. One has to ask, is this a constructive manner of engaging with any institution, particularly one tasked with the crucial responsibility of protection of basic rights of all. We must desist the urge of finding wrongs and shortcomings everywhere we look and merely for the sake of finding one. The constant desire to play to the gallery by demeaning institutions and all their efforts must be resolutely avoided. This, of course, must be a self-check. At no point is this a suggestion for uncritical affiliation, for public scrutiny and critical engagement are an absolute imperative for attainment of a vibrant and meaningful democracy. But where is the critical engagement, when unrestrained mudslinging, casting unsubstantiated aspersions and launching personal attacks against both the institution and its members, masquerade as public discourse? We all will do well to remember, that it does not take long to tear down an institution but it takes aeons to build an effective one”, said CJI Gogoi.
NRC – A base document for the future
CJI Ranjan Gogoi said, “the NRC as it will finally emerge is not a document of the moment – 19 lakhs or 40 lakhs is not the point. It is a base document for the future – kind of a reference document to determine future claims. This is its intrinsic value, in my comprehension”.
Essentially, CJI Ranjan Gogoi put NRC in its historical context with the violence Assam has seen over the decades over the issue of illegal immigration and also slammed arm-chair commentators and the media for the skewed reportage of the issue which is far divorced from ground realities.