On Wednesday, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the current final National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam should be rejected and a fresh pan-India NRC should be prepared, with a single cut-off date.
His remarks came on a day Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament about an NRC across the country. At his press conference in Guwahati, Sarma welcomed Shah’s statement, which also mentioned the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
What is the NRC cut-off in Assam?
It is the same as the cut-off for detection of “illegal” migrants in Assam — March 24, 1971, based on the Assam Accord of 1985. Applicants who can prove their presence, or their ancestor’s presence, in Assam on or before that date are included as citizens in the NRC.
The NRC was first prepared in Assam in 1951, and the current NRC is an update to include the names of eligible persons based on the 1971 cut-off. Those listed in the 1951 NRC and their descendants are eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC, along with those named (and their descendants) in any of the electoral rolls or other admissible documents issued up to midnight of March 25, 1971.
Where does the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill fit into this discussion?
Shah has earlier said that the CAB — slotted for the current Winter Session of Parliament — will be passed before a pan-India NRC. While the NRC determines citizenship based entirely on a cut-off date, the CAB proposes to differentiate among immigrants on the basis of religion.
The Bill lapsed without being introduced in Rajya Sabha earlier this year. It proposes to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 by relaxing the eligibility rules for immigrants belonging to six minority (non-Muslim) religions, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, in getting Indian citizenship.
What does that mean for the NRC in Assam?
Influential socio-political groups and several political parties in the Northeast are against the CAB and are holding continuous protest demonstrations against it. Their argument is that CAB runs contrary to the NRC.
In Assam, if the Bill is passed, the immediate implication will be that the Hindus excluded from the NRC would be eligible for citizenship via certain criteria, while the Muslims would be treated as foreigners. Such a situation would render the current NRC meaningless.
Why is the BJP unhappy with the current NRC?
Sarma said that the current NRC could not be accepted by the state government because it has included people who should not have been included and on the contrary excluded ‘genuine’ Indian citizens. The state government and the state unit of the BJP have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the final NRC and frequently criticised former NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela, who has been transferred out of Assam by the Supreme Court.
On the day the final NRC was published, state BJP president Ranjit Dass had said that the figure of 19 lakh exclusions was lower than earlier government estimates of illegal foreigners in Assam, while “sons of soil” and genuine citizens were excluded.
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