Only a few days are remaining for the publishing of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. Last year, when the draft NRC came out, nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from it, leaving this huge population hanging with the possibility of becoming stateless overnight. This possible humanitarian crisis raised concerns at both the national and international levels.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, on the other hand, rejoiced over it and went on campaigning for an NRC all over the country. During the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, then president of BJP and current Home Minister Amit Shah could be seen declaring that the NRC updating process would be carried out everywhere—the mantra was to drive away all the illegal immigrants. But as the date of announcement of the final NRC list is approaching, the party has surprisingly taken a stand of opposition to the current NRC, at least in Assam.
On August 27, the local newspapers in Assam reported that in a press conference addressed by state BJP president Ranjit Das, he said that his party was not satisfied with the current NRC, as the Register includes immigrants while leaving out Indian citizens. He also targeted Prateek Hajela, the coordinator of NRC in Assam, saying that Hajela has been stubborn and driven by his own interests. Notably, the Supreme Court of India had previously told the government to stay away from interfering in the process of NRC updating in Assam in a hearing dated July 13, 2017.
Also read: Govt Trying Its Best to Mislead People About NRC in India and in Assam: Abdul Mannan
Although, press briefings against the NRC are very recent, many BJP leaders in Assam have been raising objections on the current NRC for quite some time now. One of the fervent voices has been that of Shiladitya Dev, the MLA from the Hojai Constituency. Dev has also been a strong advocate of the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB).
Before the formal press deliberations by Ranjit Das, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students’ wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, along with other organisations have held a series of protests in many parts of Assam and also in Delhi in the last few days. On August 17, an unknown organisation named “Assam Sachetan Manch” staged a protest demonstration against the dismissal of the re-verification plea made by Assam Government in the Supreme Court. On August 12, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal made by Assam Government where it urged to re-open and re-verify the NRC and also extending the date of its publication. On August 19, ABVP staged a protest demo in front of the NRC secretariat, Guwahati opposing the current NRC and demanding an NRC where no illegal immigrants can make a place. On similar lines, protests in other places of Assam were also organised. In a video published in the news portal NorthEast Now, an ABVP leader was seen threatening Prateek Hajela—he said that if their demands are not met with, then ABVP will not hesitate to beat him up in the middle of the road.
Why is BJP Upset with the NRC?
The obvious question which rises is why is the BJP against the NRC in Assam, while they have campaigned in favour of implementing it all over the country? On August 1, during a zero hour address in the Assam Legislative Assembly, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandramohan Patowary revealed the government’s data on the inclusion and exclusion in the final draft NRC published last year. The district-wise break up data revealed that while the state average of the total exclusion is 12.15%, the districts bordering Bangladesh have a good inclusion rate. The exclusion rate of the bordering districts of South Salmara, Dhubri and Karimganj was 7.22%, 8.26 % and 7.57 % respectively. On the other hand, exclusion rate in the districts such as Karbi Anglong (14.31%) and Tinsukia (13.25%) are higher than the average.
The Bangladesh bordering districts are also the Muslim majority ones. A lower rate of exclusion in these districts straight away indicates the higher rate of inclusion of the minorities in the NRC. Probably, this is the biggest reason the BJP has become hell-bent on opposing the NRC and if possible, to stall it in anyway.
Also read: NRC: Only 8.75 Percent of Those Left Out have Filed Claims
The making of the NRC exclusion data public is also questionable. Earlier, the NRC secretariat submitted the district-wise break up of data to the Supreme Court after the final draft was published. In an order dated September 19, 2018, the Supreme Court stated that the confidential data should not be made available to anyone else because they are very sensitive in nature.
On August 20, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal indicated that after the NRC is published on August 31, as mandated by the Supreme Court, the government may enact some legislations on the enumeration process. Ranjit Das, too, in today’s press meet has reiterated Sonowal’s comments. What exactly they mean by this legislation on the enumeration process is not very clear yet. But the possibility of bringing back the CAB can’t be ignored. Throughout the LS election campaign, BJP continued to campaign that CAB is one of their main agenda and they are committed to get it passed.