The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam welcomed the big announcement made by home minister Amit Shah on Wednesday to have a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) that would include “citizens from all religions”. Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma who has all throughout maintained that the NRC published on August 31, 2019 is “not acceptable” said that he had unofficially consulted the home minister over the NRC issue several times.
“The NRC we have today is not an acceptable document. It should be rejected, and Assam should be part of the national NRC. The Home Minister said there will be a national NRC after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, and it would not create any confusion. Earlier, there was confusion on the acceptance of Refugee Certificates as proof of citizenship. We want the cut-off date to be the same across the country — we are still discussing about it. If it is 1971- the year should be same for rest of India,” said Sarma, adding that the BJP does not demand the Assam Accord to be revised, but “would not object to a different cut-off date, if it is beneficial for the state”.
The opposition Congress, however, chose to oppose the Centre’s plan to redo the NRC in Assam.
“A massive amount of Rs 1600 crore was spent to prepare the NRC, and now they want to reject it. The former Chief Justice of India said that the present NRC is a base document for the future, and people who raised objections are playing with fire. We too believe the same,” said Rajya Sabha MP and Assam Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ripun Bora.
Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the NRC being a continually updating exercise would entail fund spending even in future.
“NRC is a continuous process like updating the electoral roll. You have to keep spending fund for updating the NRC,” said Sarma.
Former Assam chief minister and founding president of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said that it is an attempt to sabotage the entire Supreme Court-monitored exercise.
“Amit Shah has no right to defy a legal process mandated by Supreme Court. Those who are objecting it are trying to sabotage the process,” said Mahanta.
The All Assam Minorities Students' Union (AAMSU) said people are not ready to suffer again because of NRC.
“The NRC in Assam was done under direct supervision of Supreme Court, and was almost to reach conclusion. It was called a technical process by the Government of India. And we don’t understand why they want to repeat the same process? We have nothing to say if NRC is done across India, but in Assam, people have already suffered a lot. If there’s any fault in the NRC, approach the Supreme Court and highlight it,” said AAMSU adviser Azizur Rahman.
On the other hand, Assam Public Works (APW), the original petitioner in the Supreme Court that led to the NRC updating exercise has welcomed the home minister's announcement.
“We are happy to hear it, and people of Assam too should welcome and support it. We have been demanding from the very beginning that the NRC should be newly prepared, and a CBI/ED/NIA enquiry should be initiated on utilisation of funds allocated for the updating exercise — a number of illegal Bangladeshis and ‘Jehadis’ have been included in the NRC,” said APW president Aabhijeet Sharma.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), however, maintained that they want a pure and Bangladeshi-free NRC, the updating process for which should be completed under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
“NRC is not a new thing for Assam, it was first done in 1951 and it is presently being updated on the basis of Assam Accord, and under supervision of the Supreme Court. We are not happy with the result, and we have appealed in the court for rectifications — the hearing will take place on November 26. We want the NRC exercise to be completed under the supervision of the Supreme Court,” said AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya.
Former Assam DGP Harekrishna Deka said that “a communal factor introduced at different points has been blurring the NRC mission”.
“Those who try to open the land for Hindu illegal migrants disregarding their foreign nationality and those who dubiously try to use doubtful documents to prove illegal migrants as Indian nationals are acting against the existential threat of the indigenous communities. The Assam Accord has given a cut-off date of March 25, 1971, under which all migrants settling in Assam prior to that date have been accepted to be eligible for citizenship by all stakeholders through consensus, without distinguishing whether such migrants are Hindus or Muslims, or of any other religion,” said Deka.
“In a massive exercise of this nature, mistakes, some genuine or some motivated, may be there. The whole exercise was prepared with the participation of a large body of government officials at different levels with voluntary participation of the people, who appeared in several hearings, and it was done at an enormous cost. Now calling it a wasted exercise without submitting provable facts is not correct. A huge record has been prepared supported by documents and it is available for scrutiny,” he added.
Meanwhile, for the first time since the final NRC was published, Himanta Biswa Sarma chose to blame the State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela for a “faulty document”, stating that the “Assam government is bearing the brunt for the wrongdoings of a single individual”.
“We are concerned with the flaws — the way the State NRC Coordinator run the show, the way he kept aside the state government. It was an opaque system, and justice has not been done to any quarter,” said Sarma, making it clear that “Assam NRC has not yet been scrapped yet”.
“Assam NRC has not been scrapped yet, and till the national NRC is created, the Assam NRC now will hold ground. In the intervening period, if anyone left out wants to get their name included in the NRC, we have to help them by creating an ecosystem. We have to arrange for the legal cost. We will set up Foreigners’ Tribunal at the doorstep, and people will no longer need to travel long distances. They will not be charged fees for filing applications.”A total of 3,11,21,004 people were found eligible for inclusion in the final NRC and 19,06,657 were left out when the supplementary list of inclusion and exclusion status of applicants was published on August 31, 2019.