The final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) released Saturday seems to have put the BJP in a fix. The outcome of the unprecedented exercise has not matched its historical demand and has left its state unit discontented.
While underscoring that people excluded from the NRC will not be deported as this “option is not on the table”, a senior government source said that the NRC exercise would not be attempted in other states. “With this exercise and the outcome, it is safe to assume that NRC will not be attempted in other parts of the country. It is highly problematic, expensive and unproductive exercise,” said the source, referring to the Assam BJP’s disappointment over the 19 lakh people left out in the final NRC released Saturday.
The BJP has raised illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as a major issue for at least two decades — it has figured in resolutions at least 17 times in national executives since 2003, almost as much as its other core agenda, the abolition of Article 370, the Ram Temple or the Uniform Civil code. While the party’s senior Assam leaders already termed it “erroneous”, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the list should have included more illegal immigrants.
Incidentally, BJP national president and current Union Home Minister Amit Shah has termed illegal immigrants “termites” and a major threat to national security due to the sheer numbers involved, which veteran leader and former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had estimated was around one million in 2003. In November 2016, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha that there were around two crore Bangladeshi immigrants staying illegally in India.
But with the Supreme Court-monitored exercise now reducing the number to 19 lakh, Sarma pointed out the entire process, once completed, is expected to leave only 5-6 lakh people out of the NRC.
From Advani to Shah, the BJP has been particularly vocal on the issue and always spoke of deporting illegal immigrants to Bangladesh. However, the BJP government at the Centre has, at least on two occasions, indicated that it had no plans to deport those who are out of the list.
On August 4, 2018, The Indian Express reported that then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had briefed his Bangladesh counterpart Asaduzzman Khan, assuring Dhaka that there was no talk of deportation to prevent a slide in bilateral ties. Current External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, during his recent visit to Dhaka, also mentioned that the NRC is an “internal matter”, again indicating that deportation was not on the cards.
“The game is not over for the BJP. We are on it. We will pursue it until the end because we don’t want to see any genuine person to be out and not a single foreigner in,” Sarma told The Indian Express, just hours after the final list was published. He said the BJP and the state government will now approach the Supreme Court again for “re-verification” in the border districts.
Though maintaining that the BJP’s official comment on the final NRC will be made only after assessing the list, Sarma said the prima facie report that he got from indigenous people is that “they are not at all happy with the outcome of the process”.
“The NRC has not been able to fulfil the expectation of the people of Assam,” Sarma said, because the 19 lakh included around 3.80 lakh who did not wish to appeal and those who have already died.
“So the actual exclusion currently is 15 lakh, out of which around 5-6 lakh people are those who have migrated from Bangladesh due to religious persecution before 1971. The NRC did not take refugee certificates issued prior to 1971 into cognizance. This will be considered by the Tribunal which will hear the appeals. This will leave around 11 lakh. Again, there are many whose parents are included but left out in the current list. When they will also be included, the total number of exclusion will only be 6-7 lakh, which is very less,” said Sarma.
“But people in Assam are not happy because the number of exclusion is going to be much below than expected. Excluded number should have been more.”
Sarma’s remarks also assumed significance in the backdrop of the affidavits filed by the state and the Centre moving the SC in July seeking re-verification of 20 per cent of the names in the draft NRC, especially in the Muslim dominated border districts.
The apex court, however, has dismissed the requests. “But now, the number of excluded makes a case for both the BJP and the state government to revive its demand for reverification of the list in the border districts, where Muslim migrants are populated. For us the game is not over, we will continue our fight,” said Sarma.
Party sources said the outcome of the exercise has “deeply disappointed” the BJP because cleansing the citizens list was a major electoral issue for the BJP and the party had identified itself with the anti-foreigner agitation in Assam since the 1980s.
The issue has remained in its manifestos since 1996. With national security its major plank, the party had often used Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in poll rhetoric, with its top leaders often mentioning the same in speeches and resolutions.
While the rhetoric was high during the 10 years of Congress-led UPA rule, the party has passed a special resolution on the issue twin tagging illegal migration from Bangladesh with the assurance of updating the NRC. And amending the Citizenship Act to provide citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Christians fleeing religious persecution in India’s neighbourhood.
Its political resolution at the party national executive last September, held after the first list was published, focussed on the NRC but said the government was not against citizens of the country but infiltration.
In 2003, the resolution passed by the national executive in Indore had said: “The Union Home Ministry is taking strong steps to detect & send back the Bangladesh infiltrators. The National Executive wants the Union Government to take necessary steps to repeal the Illegal Migrant Detection…Act which has proved to be detrimental in throwing out illegal migrants from Bangladesh.”
In the 2008 Bangalore convention, Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat had said: “The illegal immigrants from Bangladesh continue to invade India. The Government of India and the UPA don’t perceive these illegal immigrants as a threat to the sovereignty and demography of India. They prefer to use these immigrants as a vote bank.”