WITH BJP chief Amit Shah accusing the Congress of lacking the courage to identify illegal migrants in Assam, the Opposition asked the government not to play politics on the issue during the debate on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
While the Congress asked the government to adopt a humanitarian approach and not leave out any Indian citizen from the NRC, TMC demanded its complete withdrawal, claiming that Indians had been left out.
With Congress and TMC members creating an uproar, Shah asked whether the Congress wanted to save “illegal Bangladeshis”. He said the NRC was an exercise which was to be conducted as part of the Assam Accord signed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on August 14, 1985. Noting that the NRC was the soul of the accord, which sought to identify illegal migrants and prepare a list of Indian citizens, he said the exercise was being conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
“NRC is being conducted on the SC’s order. There are 40 lakh people (missing in the final list)… Whom do you want to save? You want to save illegal Bangladeshis,” he asked. “This was the Congress PM’s initiative. He (Rajiv Gandhi) did not have the courage. We have courage and we are doing it,” he said.
Shah’s remarks triggered protests from Opposition members, led by the Congress and TMC. Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu first adjourned the House for about 10 minutes during the debate, and later for the day. Home Minister Rajnath Singh was present in the House, but could not reply due to the protests.
Initiating the debate, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said it was a humanitarian issue and not a matter of any particular caste, religion or region. “This is not only about 40 lakh people, if you consider their children, families, it comes to 1-1.5 crore people,” he said, adding that the issue may have international ramifications, especially with India’s close friend, Bangladesh.
He observed that the onus of proving their identity as a citizen of India should not lie just on an individual, but the government as well. Azad said the government should make legal provisions for the affected people, and there should be no harassment. He said if they had even one document, out of the 16 documents required to prove identity, it should suffice.
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said those not included in the final draft included Hindus as well as Muslims, and people from states like Bihar and UP. He said there was a need to exercise caution, pointing out that if an Indian citizen was left out, he would have nowhere to go.
TMC leader Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said his party chief, Mamata Banerjee, had demanded that it should be withdrawn, and legal citizens of India should not be thrown out. He said a misconception was being spread about the exercise being conducted in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directive, and asserted that the right of people to reside in any state, as per the Constitution, was being violated.
Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (SAD) said minorities should not be made to feel like they don’t belong to the country.
Prasanna Acharya (BJD) said nobody should play politics on the issue, because it is very sensitive. He urged Home Minister Rajnath Singh to assure that all irregularities in the NRC would be taken care of.
Y S Chowdary (TDP) said proper procedure was not followed, due to which 40 lakh people had been declared refugees.
T K Rangarajan (CPI-M) said the final draft was an illegal report, and did not take into account several people from other parts of India who had moved to Assam earlier.
Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) said it cannot be a “heartless bureaucratic exercise” but should have a humanitarian approach, while Veer Singh (BSP) said an informed decision should be taken.
Majeed Memon (NCP) said it was not an issue of people from one religion alone, but the rights of an Indian citizen were involved.
Biswajit Daimary (BPF), who is from Assam, said the names were not included in final draft due to lack of documentary proof. Such people have been given time to submit their documents, he said.
Swapan Dasgupta (nominated) said his “only appeal is that let there be a rigorous and fair scrutiny. Let us not be in denial that there is a real problem in Assam.”
Tiruchi Siva (DMK) said the government should tackle the issue in an amicable way, while Dharmapuri Srinivas (TRS) said the government should reconsider the list.
Meanwhile, in the Lok Sabha, Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi alleged on Tuesday that the government did not have data regarding the number of illegal immigrants in Assam and not all the 40 lakh people who had not been listed were foreigners. He was joined by his party colleague from West Bengal Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.