The most “controversial” man in Assam today, the NRC coordinator, Prateek Hajela, a 1995 batch IAS officer responsible for the publication of the final list of the NRC, must also be a relieved man. The task, bestowed on him since 2015, under the constant supervision of the Supreme Court, has been completed.
Whether the completed final product is error free or not is up for interpretation but by and large, the general populace of Assam has heaved a sigh of relief, notwithstanding the “expected” positions taken by various organisations, both political and apolitical on the “erroneous” NRC list. Whatever be the outcome at the end, Hajela will be remembered as the person who took upon the task to give an identity to the people of Assam through an onerous exercise and Assamese should not forget that he meant well for Assam.
Cutting Across Party Lines
Whether “erroneous” or “Error-free”, the single biggest fact this entire NRC exercise has brought to the fore is the undeniable fact that Assam has faced an onslaught of illegal immigrants, primarily from Bangladesh since March 24, 1971. This exercise, incidentally, has also brought all political parties, whether the ruling BJP or its principal opposition in the state, INC, on the same side of the table in their claim that the NRC final list is an erroneous one with the state finance minister even announcing that the state government would appeal to the Supreme Court, the primary force behind updation of the NRC list, for reverification of the final published list.
The Congress, on the other hand, has taken a somewhat confused stand with on one hand, the former Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi claiming credit in the past that it was Congress who initiated NRC implementation process, while on the other hand, its national leaders, including the irrepressible, Shashi Tharoor indirectly denouncing the entire exercise through a tweet wherein the Congress leader basically bracketed nationalism and xenophobia together only to be separated by a thin line by quoting Rabindranath Tagore. The tweet, if nothing else, only shows ignorance of our national leaders not only to the plight of the indigenous population of the state but also to the fact that two union home ministers, one from UPA and the other from NDA declaring in parliament that Assam is home to millions of illegal immigrants. By denouncing the process, these leaders have only thrown the people of Assam to the woes of uncertainty.
Well, in the run-up to the publication of the final list of NRC for Assam since the publication of the first draft, on 31st July, 2018, the word “Xenophobia” has been liberally used primarily by the national media in the context of the widespread support the NRC publication process received from the general population of Assam irrespective of their religious affiliation. Some media publications went up to the extent of widely publishing the “Genocide” watch for Assam as if the Assamese population of Assam were waiting with their “Hang Dangs” (The Sword) to kill all “NRC excluded” at the first sight, thereby signalling to the world that Assamese people are savages and this, in-spite of the fact that Assam alone as a small state has singlehandedly absorbed 24 years of unabated “illegal immigrants” into its fold between 1947 and 1971. These “genocide” watchers have repeatedly failed to highlight the fact that while for rest of India, the citizenship cut off year is 1951, it is 1971 for the state of Assam, which clearly points to the magnanimity shown by the Assamese population repeatedly time and again.
Has any other border state in India shown such magnanimity in absorbing “foreigners” into its fabric as Assam has done thereby jeopardising the future security of its own people in terms of resources, heritage and culture?
The only other state which showed such magnanimity, Tripura, today lies battered under the onslaught of immigrants and its original inhabitants have become a minority in their own land.
Bengal too has absorbed a huge number of refugees from Bangladesh but the homogeneity in culture has made the process less painful. The aggressiveness of certain sections of national media against the Assamese people can also be gauged by the fact that repeated articles denounced the NRC exercise as an exercise to rid of its Muslim population, basically terming it as an anti-muslim process, not realising that today probably more Hindu Bengalis have been excluded from the final NRC list than Bengali speaking Muslims.
Further, these experts and journalists repeatedly resorted to fear mongering by predicting violence in the aftermath of the publication but have been forced to eat crow when Assamese people have shown exemplary conduct as against “xenophobia” and ‘genocide” taglines “bestowed” on them. Will they now apologise for such acts of indiscretion against a populace who have been forced to resort to agitation for every legitimate demand of theirs since 1947, be it their inclusion into an Independent India to a bridge over Brahmaputra to expulsion of illegal immigrants from the state?
Not Irresponsible, Neither Bigoted
Assamese people are not irresponsible and bigoted as being portrayed by some self styled keepers of democracy in mainland India. Assamese people had fought equally for an independent India along with the rest and therefore no one can claim that the Assamese people are any less in loving their motherland. What irks the Assamese is the indiscriminate accusations by certain sections of media and experts without any basis on the ground.
Assamese people are not immune to the fact that those excluded from the list need humane treatment and hence they have welcomed the home ministry’s missive that all excluded will be treated equally at par with the rest as of now. So, within Assam. a certain section has already requested the rest that in the name of humanity to absorb the excluded ones.
Rest be assured that Assam will rise to the occasion again with another exemplary act of passion in the near future like it did when it accepted 24th March, 1971 as the cut off date for detection of “illegal immigrants” that entered Assam till then and thereby by a single stroke of pen, it absorbed millions of illegal immigrants into its fold who otherwise would have been persona-non-grata in the mainland India.
Assam now has to move on from this episode and focus its energy on the implementation of the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, for which a committee has already been formed. Assamese people need protection to protect its culture, to protect its heritage and to protect its resources and they don’t want to become minority like a Tripuri in Tipraland.
Mukul Gogoi is a former journalist and is presently managing director, Transbiz Associates Pvt Limited, an infrastructure consultancy firm based in Guwahati, Assam.