Not many people are unhappy in Assam following publication of the first part draft of the much-awaited National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise that is supposed to help identify and segregate names of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the state. That is because the verification of names of more than 1.39 crore people are yet to be completed.
The first part draft NRC, published Sunday midnight, has names of about 1.90 crore persons out of a total of 3.29 crore applicants, with Sailesh, the Registrar-General of India saying that only those names have been included in it whose document verifications were completed and citizenship established. NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela said that the verification process was on and that more and more names were being cleared each passing day.
While the authorities had initially targeted publishing the draft NRC on the last day of 2017, it later had to keep at least 76 lakh names in abeyance; in these there were doubts regarding family linkages amounting to about 47 lakh names, while 29 lakh others – most of them married women – require minute scrutiny of residency certificates issued by Gaon Panchayat secretaries.
Even among the 2.38 crore names that had been taken up for scrutiny for the first draft NRC, over 48 lakh names did not make it to the first draft, with Hajela saying that the verification of most of these names could not be completed within the deadline. Thus, many families have found that names of only some of their members have appeared in the list. In many cases, even as names of children have appeared, names of parents have not appeared, primarily because verification has remained incomplete.
Names of many prominent persons including MPs and MLAs have not found a place in the first draft. The list includes AIUDF president and Lok Sabha member Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, his brother and MP Sirajuddin Ajmal, AUIDF legislator Hafiz Bashir Ahmed Quasimi, and Congres MLA Nurul Huda. “Names over 70 per residents of my constituency have not appeared in the first draft. Officials have told me the verification was still on, and I have assured my people that genuine Indian citizens need not worry because their names will have to be included in the final NRC,” Huda, MLA from Rupohihat LAC said.
Though there has been an impression that the names of many Muslims have not appeared in the first draft NRC, the fact remains that names of people of various communities have not found place in it. “There is a document against every individual which requires to be verified at their respective issuing authority’s office. These include birth certificates, land documents, passports, Board certificates, and a few other documents, each of which were issued by different authorities, some even in other states of the country. That is why it is taking time,” State Coordinator Hajela has said.
Assam has been plagued with the problem of migration since it became part of British India in 1826. People – mostly tribals – were brought in from the Chota Nagpur plateau and its adjoining areas covering present-day Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and parts of Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh to work in the newly-opened tea plantations from the mid 19th century; the British encouraged the migration of Muslim farmers from East Bengal after Lord Curzon became Viceroy of India (1899-1905). As more Muslims migrated to Assam, the Muslim League wanted Assam to be clubbed with East Pakistan, an attempt that was thwarted by Gopinath Bardoloi with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel.
While those who came before 1947 were naturally considered Indian citizens, Partition saw a large number of both Hindus and Muslims from East Pakistan migrate to Assam. It was around then – immediately after the Census of 1951, to be precise – that the Assam government prepared a National Register of Citizens (NRC), one that recorded particulars of all the persons enumerated during that Census. But then migration continued, with Assamese nationalist leaders seeing it as part of a larger design of demographic invasion by Pakistan’s founders. (This “invasion” was particularly mentioned by the Supreme Court while scrapping the controversial IMDT Act in July 2005.)
Bardoloi, as the first chief minister (till he died in 1950) and BP Chaliha as the third chief minister took stern steps to expel the post-1951 illegal migrants, much to the displeasure of Prime Minister Nehru who even threatened to cut central funds if Assam did not retain the migrants. Chaliha is known to have expelled about two lakh people, mostly Muslims, because of which he had a strained relationship with Nehru.
The Bangladesh liberation movement (1971) on the other hand sent lakhs of refugees from then East Pakistan into Assam and West Bengal. When Bangladesh was liberated in December 1971, the then Congress governments in both Assam and at the Centre failed to send all of them back to the newly established country. Subsequently, the authorities found several thousands people enrolled in the electoral rolls with the help of corrupt officials when a revision of the rolls were conducted after a sitting MP of Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency died in 1978.
In 1979, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) under its president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and general secretary Bhrigu Kumar Phukan launched a movement demanding detection and deportation of “several lakh” infiltrators of East Pakistan/Bangladesh origin, a movement that demanded from day one updation of the NRC of 1951 in order to detect these people. Though the Assam Accord did not particularly mention updating the NRC, the AASU kept pressing for it, until New Delhi agreed to do so in a tripartite meeting of the Central and State government with the student body on May 5, 2005.
But it was only in 2010 that the government first went for a pilot NRC project in two LACs – Chhaygaon and Barpeta – but though the Chhaygaon project was successfully completed, the Barpeta project was stopped mid-way when the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) resorted to violence.
As the government procrastinated, a Guwahati-based NGO called Assam Public Works approached the Supreme Court, which in turn not only issued directives to the government in December 2014 to start the NRC process, but also set a timeline starting with a publication of records in February 2015 and receiving applications by August 31, 2015. The apex court also later fixed Decembre 31, 2017 as deadline for publication of the first draft NRC. While about 3.29 crore persons comprising over 68 lakh families applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC, names of about 76 lakh applicants were kept in abeyance till the first draft was published.
These 76 lakh people fall under two categories: (a) for about 47 lakh persons, doubts have arisen in respect of their parental linkage after the matching of the family tree of an applicant, and (b) cases of about 29 lakh persons – mostly married women – who had submitted Gaon Panchayat Secretary’s certificates of which the Supreme Court has called for thorough scrutiny.
Applicants have to either prove with documents that their names appeared in the NRC of 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls of Assam till 1971, or in any of 12 other documents, provided those were issued before 1971. Those who are descendants of persons possessing any of the above documents also require to produce a birth certificate or any of the other six specified documents to prove their relationship to the ancestor(s).
Supreme Court was right:
This NRC, as only a first and partial draft, hasn’t got any major or serious problem because the people have by and large understood that the verification process is not yet over, and that once the verifications are over, they will see their names in the NRC. A massive publicity campaign informing the people about why it is taking so long for the verification, mounted in the past two or three weeks, has paid rich dividends: the NRC draft publication went off in an unbelievably peaceful manner.
Some quarters, including the state government, did have apprehensions of trouble breaking out once the NRC draft was out. In fact the Attorney General had himself told the Supreme Court on November 30 that part publication of the draft NRC could result in a law and order situation “inasmuch as a large segment of the people would understand that their names have been excluded from the draft NRC.”
Dismissing the Attorney General’s apprehensions, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman in their order of November 30 had said, “We do not see how the aforesaid situation can even remotely arise as we have already indicated in the earlier part of the present order that claims of 47 lakh persons and 29 lakh persons are still pending and would be subject to verification and covered by publication of another draft NRC at a subsequent point of time.” But despite that, the Centre had sent 50 additional companies of central forces to the state,which were deployed across the state ahead of December 31, while release of the part draft NRC passed off in a record peaceful manner in a sensitive state like Assam.
“The NRC updation process is going on under the direction and direct monitoring of the hon’ble Supreme Court. We as the government are only implementing every direction of the Court,” said Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The process of verification meanwhile continues, with hundreds of such verification being completed every day. The authorities would soon also take up verification of the 76 lakh people whose cases were kept in abeyance while the first part draft NRC was being finalised for release on December 31. “We will place our progress before the Supreme Court on the next hearing date (February 20), and continue with our work as per its directive,” said State NRC Coordinator Hajela.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which has become almost synonymous with the movement for detecting and deporting Bangladeshi infiltrators, watns to wait for the Supreme Court. “The hon’ble Supreme Court will tell what to do with those people who fail to make it to the final NRC. But then, our demand has been the same as in 1979: deport them to where they came from,” said AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya.
As far as Bangladesh is concerned, it has always denied that there has been any infiltration of its people to Assam, or for that matter into India. This despite the fact that several dozen Bangladeshis who had illegally entered India have been officially handed over by India to that country in the recent months. Over 500 persons declared as foreigners by various tribunals in Assam are languishing in detention centres, waiting to be deported to Bangladesh.