The National Register for Citizens (NRC) process in Assam seems to be spinning out of control with the state government refusing to toe the line set by the Supreme Court. On Thursday, a senior BJP minister in the Assam government, Chandra Mohan Patowary, revealed the district-wise break-up of the NRC inclusion and exclusion data (from the draft report published in July last year). The Court had instructed the NRC coordinator, Prateek Hajela, to submit this sensitive data in a sealed cover. The minister’s act is in defiance of the spirit of the Court order, therefore, and it may trigger new divides in the state. The move comes in the backdrop of the Court refusing to entertain the government’s plea for a 20 per cent re-verification of the data in districts bordering Bangladesh. The Court also noted that Hajela had submitted that NRC officials re-verified 27 per cent of the data when it adjudicated on the citizenship claims.
The intent behind the state government’s move to reveal the NRC data at this juncture is, clearly, political. The BJP government in Assam considers the NRC an instrument to isolate those who it sees as people who came from Bangladesh after March, 1971. It has been argued that districts bordering Bangladesh are prone to high levels of illegal immigration. However, the NRC has altered the picture and threatens to subvert the narrative on illegal migration. According to the figures revealed by Patowary in the state assembly, maximum exclusion from the NRC has been reported from districts not on the border but in Hojai and Darrang in central Assam. And, ironically, a large percentage of the people who have failed to prove their citizenship claims are members of indigenous tribes and Bengali-speaking Hindus. The anachronism is hardly surprising since the sort of documentation demanded of people by the NRC is not readily available or easy to produce, especially in non-urban and tribal areas with low penetration of the government. The government is apprehensive that the exclusions may trigger a backlash. It should have anticipated this situation since these concerns were flagged by civil society groups at the very outset.
Both the Supreme Court and the government need to be sensitive to the enormous impact the NRC will have on the people. An estimated four million persons may lose citizenship rights and would be forced to relocate to camps as non-citizens or doubtful voters. The enormity of the crisis on hand seems to have escaped the authorities — the SC frames the NRC as a legalistic exercise while the government views it through an ideological lens. Neither approach is helpful to resolving the human tragedy unfolding in Assam.