The promise held out to the people of Assam with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 between the government of India led by the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then Assam agitation leaders, but now part of the coalition government in Assam on detection and deportation of 'foreigners' has finally kept its date on the first part with the release of the completed draft of the updated National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) for the state after a long wait of 33 years.
Amid apprehensions in certain quarters that the process is flawed and that genuine Indian citizens would be harassed, the disclosure today that just over 4 million people have been kept out of the NRC list (with some genuine human errors) has been largely welcomed even though some feel that the numbers should have been more.
Also Read: Assam NRC: What defines citizenship and who is a citizen?
The basis for this has been statements in the past by union ministers in the floor of parliament that over 50 lakh illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had entered Assam and settled in the state.
Also, contrary to apprehension in various quarters that there would be large-scale disturbances in Assam following the release of the completed draft list, the citizens have accepted the process fairly well.
Of course, these are early days and there would still be elements lurking in corners who would want nothing better than to fan violence to gain political mileage out of it.
The violence unleashed in 2010 at Barpeta and Chaygaon following a pilot NRC project continues to serve as a reminder though this time around the administration has been more than careful to quash the rumours floating around prior to the publication of the completed draft of NRC.
As an Assamese, how do I look at the developments?
Today, out of 3.29 crore people residing in Assam, barely 50 percent are considered to be 'Assamese' ringing in alarm bells across the state that the identity of 'Assamese' is in danger.
Remember, independent studies have concluded that the indigenous people in Assam will be reduced to a minority status within the next few decades or so if constitutional safeguards are not provided to that section in Assam.
So in that sense, the draft is only a baby step in that direction. The process is nothing but the identification of illegal immigrants from the neighbouring country.
Of course, the humanitarian crisis that will unfold over the next few months or even years will require deft handling by the governments in power.
But one thing is certain – even if the government of India allows the identified “illegal immigrants” to stay in India, Assam cannot be the state of residence for these people because over the years with the depletion of resources within the state, the indigenous people of the state would require help from the government or other authorities to survive and grow economically, socially and politically.
Another aspect that needs reiteration at this stage is that this is not a Hindu-Muslim issue.
It is really an illegal immigrant issue — irrespective of the religious belief followed by that person. Except for a few, the people of the state have not looked at the NRC issue in any other way.
In fact, new voices have emerged within some forums in Assam that for providing constitutional protection to the indigenous people of Assam, the cutoff date should be 1951 and not March 25, 1971, which has been the basis for updating the NRC completed draft.
Whether this view gains currency or not time will tell, but the fact that constitutional protection to the indigenous people of Assam for exclusive right over its resources has a ring of truth because Assam’s diverse ethnicity has to be taken into account.
The rest of India should not be unnecessarily alarmed at the developments in Assam and should look at the state and its people from a historical perspective.
The fact that people of Assam have generally accepted March 25, 1971 as the cutoff date for this identification process should be viewed as a gesture to accommodate all people who illegally entered Assam since India’s independence until 1971.
Such immigration has already altered the social and linguistic landscape of Assam and people of Assam have already shown “Udarota” — meaning magnanimity — in accepting millions of migrants from the neighbouring country until 1971.
Assam has been known to be a land of “Assimilation” and the first Ahom king Sukapha had shown the way 800 years ago and the present generations have been magnanimous enough to accommodate many millions into its fold.
And the ball is now in the court of the lot between 1951 and 1971 to accept Assam as its “Matribhoomi” and assimilate as quickly as possible to lay the foundation for a socially and economically prosperous Assam.
Mukul Gogoi was a former journalist with The Economic Times and is presently Managing Director, Transbiz Associates Pvt Limited, an Infrastructure Consultancy firm based at Guwahati, Assam. ALSO READ:
What defines citizenship and who is a citizen?