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National Register of Citizens must move ahead, opposition to it is for parochial gains

The opposition to the NRC is opportunistic and is coming from politicians who have repeatedly raised the illegal immigrant issue.

Updated: Aug 01, 2018, 20:24 PM IST

The National Register of Citizens has occupied a lot of time in both houses of Parliament as well as time and space in the media over the last two days. Social media has also been buzzing with posts, both for and against. I do not intend to take any position on this. However, certain facts needs to be put on public domain and certain information has to re-etched in the public memory.

Assam of 1970s and 80s
Many of my contemporaries in time and age may well recall the Assam Agitation which spread from late 1970s to the middle of 1985. As a young government staffer, I had been deputed to Assam for the 1983 elections. Spending about two weeks in Thakurbari Cantonment in Tejpur District, and conducting an election in some place near Rangapara in February 1983 are still are cherished memories of mine.

Assam Elections 1983
The people there were genuine and friendly. On the February 10, 1983, when we were being ferried in convoys to Tejpur from Guwahati Airport, there was a stoppage at Mangaldoi due to some disturbance. I had this opportunity of talking to some the locals. Only one man knew little bit of English and he conveyed that their fight was only against the government and no one else. He also conveyed in broken English that they were fighting against political leaders settling infiltrators from Bangladesh.
Assam Accord of 1985
It was good that attempts were made to assuage the concerns of the people, with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi announcing from the Red Fort in his Independence Day address the resolution of the Assam issue by virtue of an accord being signed a day before. The accord had covered many issues which treated infiltration from Bangladesh as the core issue. Among the other issues addressed in the accord were the establishment of IIT-Guwahati, the Assam Gas Cracker project and so on. Governments over the years have also repeatedly told Parliament that they are aware of the infiltration from Bangladesh.

Citizens' initiative
Progress on this issue came in 2006, when a nationalist couple - Mr Pradip Bhuyan and his wife Mrs Banti Bhuyan - moved the Supreme Court asking for directions to implement a an oft-promised project to identify foreigners in the region. Neither the UPA government nor the Assam government only made cosmetic progress, like setting up foreigner's tribunals in 2008. In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the updating of National Register of Citizens in a time-bound manner. 

Supreme Court order
The framework was first negotiated with all the stakeholders and the process of mapping the NRC began. The contours of mapping was finalised by the Congress government Assam led by Mr Tarun Gogoi. It needs emphasis that this is not an exercise like the census. It was an exercise in revalidation of citizenship of the populace in that state, which is more complicated. Every possible opportunity was to be accorded to the applicant, every collateral and corroborative document had to be considered to ensure that no genuine citizen is actually deprived of being included in the NRC. The stakeholders to be consulted had to have a largest canvas on account of this. Further, accountability to Supreme Court was also an important element. Hence, it would be untruth to suggest that the framework was lopsided or contours of mapping was biased. Therefore, the recent furore by political parties over non-inclusion of about 40 lakhs person from the NRC is totally unfounded. 

What Mamata Banerjee said in 2005
The present torch bearer against the NRC findings had said in 2005 in Parliament, "Illegal migrants from Bangladesh are also part of the voter's list in West Bengal. The state government has done nothing about it. Therefore, the issue must be discussed."

However, when then Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal disallowed her notice to raise the issue, a fuming Mamata walked towards the well of the House and thrown a sheaf of papers at the Speaker's chair and had stormed out.

Impact of illegal immigration
Former Chief Election Commissioner HS Brahma, who hailed from Assam, had predicted that by the time of the 2011 census, 11 of the 27 districts in the state would have become Muslim majority.

Lok Sabha member from Bodoland Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary has blamed illegal immigration for the violence in the state.

The issue led to widespread protests in August-September 2011. The protesters' main demand was expeditious detection and deportation of illegal infiltrators from Assam. Non-political tribal organisations held a meet soon after, with representations from Bodo, Dimasa, Tiwa, Deuri, Karbi, Garo, Rabha, Sonowal Kacharis and other tribal communities. The tribal elders said illegal immigration is threatening their existence, right to land and resources to all indigenous people of the entire state, and not just to Bodoland. 

Involvement of Bangladeshis in terror attacks in India
Investigations into a number of attacks and plot have revealed the involvement of Bangladeshi nationals. Some such cases include the Mecca Masjid and Gokul Chat blasts in Hyderabad in 2008; the German Bakery blast in Pune in 2010.

Foot soldiers for crimes
It is undeniable that some political parties use Bangladeshis as foot soldiers for illegal activities. And, when the foot soldiers are caught, these politicians act as a protective shield. Naturally, these politicians and their parties are afraid they may lose their foot soldiers if NRC is extended to other parts of the country.

It is also a well-documented and acknowledged problem of the involvement of Bangladeshi nationals in crime in a number of cities ranging as far as Delhi and Bengaluru.

My take on this is that NRC should be taken forward. Having regard to the potential of spatial spread of the problem, let this be extended to whole of the country. 

(RVS Mani is a former Central government officer who shot to prominence as a whistleblower in 2009, when he alleged he had been forced to sign documents that fabricated a narrative of 'Saffron Terror'. His book, 'Hindu Terror: Insider account of Ministry of Home Affairs', was released recently.)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)