WITH JUST five days left for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to be released, the BJP’s state unit is increasingly anxious over speculation that a large number of “illegal foreigners” will enter the final list while a considerable number of Hindus — mainly Bengali, Nepali and Hindi speakers — will be excluded, senior party leaders told The Indian Express.
So much so, BJP leaders are speaking up in public against the NRC, and organisations associated with the party, such as the ABVP and fringe units like the Hindu Jagran Manch, have held demonstrations across Assam.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Assam Minister and government spokesperson, Chandra Mohan Patowary, said: “Actually, after the final draft was published, we realised that a lot of indigenous people and genuine citizens in districts like Karbi Anglong and Dhemaji were out of the NRC whereas in certain districts where we expected the exclusion to be higher, it was not.”
The state unit had voiced its concerns soon after the publication of the draft NRC in July last year. Two months later, senior state leaders came down harshly on the exclusion of “several lakhs of genuine Indians” from the final draft in two press conferences in Guwahati.
This July, the state and the Centre moved applications in the Supreme Court seeking a re-verification of a sample of names in the NRC draft — 20 per cent in border districts and 10 per cent elsewhere. But this was dismissed by the apex court, which said the NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela has conveyed to it that 27 per cent of names were already re-verified during adjunction of citizenship “claims”.
During his Independence Day speech, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal defended the demand for re-verification: “For a correct and error-free NRC, our government had appealed to the honourable Supreme Court for re-verification of the NRC update process.”
Earlier, the state government, on August 1, released the district-wise exclusion data from the draft NRC published last year, and argued that three border districts of Dhubri, South Salmara and Karimganj — which have a very high Muslim population — garnered less
exclusion compared to districts like Tinsukia which has “sons of the soil” (Hindu population of 88.96 per cent). South Salmara is estimated to have over 95 per cent Muslims, and Dhubri and Karimganj, 79.67 per cent and 56.36 per cent, respectively.
Government data shows the percentage of people excluded from draft NRC in Dhubri is 8.26 per cent, in Karimganj 7.67 per cent, in South Salmara 7.22 per cent, and in Tinsukia 13.25 per cent.
On Hajela’s submission of 27 per cent verification, Patowary said: “We are not satisfied with that. It is the government’s duty to ensure that the name of not even one single Indian is left out and even one single foreigner included.”
Patowary highlights another reason for the unhappiness with Hajela. Of the nearly 40 lakh people excluded from the draft NRC, a little over 36 lakh have filed claims. “If you see, around 3.8 lakh people did not file claims. We want to know who they are for two reasons. One, if they are unaware of the process, the government has to help them. Two, if they know the process and have still not applied, then they are foreigners and ought to the detected. The Supreme Court told Hajela to provide the state government with the list — he has not till date. People are unhappy because of these developments and it is our duty to raise people’s concerns,” he said.
BJP state president Ranjit Dass alleged that people in districts like Dhubri and Barpeta, which are Muslim dominated, have fabricated documents for inclusion in the NRC. The percentage of Muslims in Dhubri and Barpeta are 79.67 per cent and 70.74 per cent, respectively, according to Census 2011.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dass alleged: “Papers have been manipulated by many people — in districts like Dhubri and Barpeta — to enter the NRC. Documents like birth certificates have been fabricated and forged. And NRC authorities have not checked those fabricated documents with the original counterfoil at the source, which has led to the inclusion of illegal foreigners in the NRC.”
He said the party will appeal to the state and central governments for corrective mechanisms after the publication of NRC. “We will appeal that after the NRC is published, if there is any complaint received against the inclusion of any person, there should be an investigation into that person’s inclusion,” he said.
“A professor I know, who had submitted his father’s 1965 land documents, has not been included in the draft because of some problem in linkage documents. He is a genuine citizen — and so many people like him stand the risk of not being included. Hence, we will urge the government to provide legal aid to all those genuine Indian citizens who will be left out. Not even one Indian should be left out,” said Dass.
State BJP secretary and Assam Gorkha Sammelan general secretary, Kishore Upadhyay, is blunt in claiming that “illegal Bangladeshi Muslims” will enter the NRC. “Indigenous people will be left out, and illegal Bangladeshi Muslims will be in. The desired result will not be achieved. Illegal Bangladeshis will be legalised. The NRC will be the dying declaration for the people of Assam,” he claimed.
Referring to his family, Upadhyay said: “A lot of Gorkha people will be left out — my own sister’s name is not there in the draft, she has attended five hearings. With the same legacy documents, we four brothers have made it to the draft but there have been some complications in her case. Let’s hope it comes in the final NRC.”
All eyes on Citizenship Bill
The BJP and its allies in the NorthEast states won 17 out of 24 Lok Sabha seats in this year’s general elections. In the 2016 elections to the 126-member Assam Assembly, the winning alliance comprised the BJP (61), the BPF (13 seats) and the AGP (14 seats), which parted ways from and then returned to the alliance over the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
While religion is not a criterion in the NRC updation, the CAB proposes to differentiate among immigrants on the basis of religion. It provides for granting citizenship to immigrants of six non-Muslim faiths from three countries, including Bangladesh.
The Bill lapsed without being introduced in Rajya Sabha this year. But the ruling BJP has repeatedly said that it would reintroduce it during the current term, once it has the numbers. Top state BJP leaders say that the CAB will help Hindus who are left out of the NRC.
While Assam’s Brahmaputra valley witnessed large-scale protests against the CAB, the Bengali-majority Barak Valley region — a BJP stronghold — has widespread support for the legislation.
Rajdeep Roy, BJP Lok Sabha MP from Barak’s Silchar seat, told The Indian Express: “We have specifically said we are not satisfied with the NRC. We have also criticised Hajela. He had told the Supreme Court that 27 per cent re-verification has already been done. On what basis did he say that? Shouldn’t a third party be doing re-verification? How can he himself re-verify what he has done? We are dissatisfied and we believe a large number of indigenous people will be left out.”
Asked about the Bengali Hindu community, many of them in Assam being refugees, and their speculated exclusion from the NRC, Roy said the community supported the BJP since the days of Syama Prasad Mookerjee and the BJP stands by it. Roy says he is “100% sure” the CAB will be passed and it will come to help those Bengali Hindus who may be left out of the NRC.