The panic sparked off by the spectre of NRC (National Register of Citizens) should serve a warning to politicians who have been talking about its implementation across the country soon. Across West Bengal, queues are lengthening outside government offices with people seeking the documents necessary for inclusion in the NRC; there have even been reports of suicide, reportedly due to “panic” and “depression” for want of papers. With the Assam experience fresh, where nearly 19 lakh people are out of the NRC and uncertain about their future, people in West Bengal are taking no chances. No assurance from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seems to convince a worried population, many of them having crossed over from East Pakistan and Bangladesh during Partition in 1947 and after the 1971 war, that the state has no intention to introduce an NRC.
Public anxiety is not surprising since senior functionaries of the BJP have been insisting that the NRC is a given. BJP President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently said: “The people of the country took a decision in 2019. We are here to bring the NRC, and those who are excluded will be sent out of the country after due legal process.” Ahead of the general election, Shah infamously referred to illegal migrants as termites and said a BJP government would pick up infiltrators and throw them into the sea. The BJP functionaries have also introduced a communal angle in the citizenship debate by insisting that Hindus excluded from the NRC would be protected. Earlier this week, the BJP general secretary in charge of the party in West Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya said: “As national general secretary of BJP, I want to assure all of you that NRC will be implemented but not a single Hindu will have to leave the country. Each and every Hindu will be given citizenship.” RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat too has reportedly said that the RSS will stand by Hindus not listed in the final NRC in Assam and that Hindus anywhere in India need not worry. The Delhi BJP has turned shrill in its demand for NRC, following in the footsteps of the chief ministers of Haryana and UP.
The NRC was proposed for Assam in 1951 in the backdrop of the extraordinary political history of the region before Partition: The national in NRC does not indicate any national intent. And the idea of citizenship envisaged by the Indian Constitution does not discriminate on the basis of religion. The founding fathers of the republic also did not envisage that this country should close its borders to people fleeing political and economic turmoil. The BJP leadership is surely not serving national interest by erasing this history and whipping up anxieties over questions that can cause deep cleavages in the society.