The BJP government in India has been caught by surprise. Unbelievable happened in the final count of the National Register for Citizenship (NRC) to the disbelief of the party leadership in the state and at the center.
They took the count to expel Bengali settlers to Bangladesh, but the overwhelming number of Hindus on the list makes it a difficult task even challenged by bigger segment of people within India. The NRC seeks to dub settlers as ‘foreigners’ eyeing mainly on the Muslim settlers.
But contrary to it, the outcome has prompted a new slogan in the state and elsewhere saying, ‘Hindus can’t be expelled from Hindustan. Hindus can’t be foreigners in India.”
The political context of the NRC count is so distinct that despite the controversy over the list which finally came down to 19 lakhs and people excluded still have scope open to prove their citizenship to tribunals and Supreme Court, some Indian leaders already started calling upon Bangladesh to ‘take back’ its nationals.
Indian foreign Minister in his recent visit to Dhaka said NRC is entirely a domestic issue in India but the finance Minister of Assam Himantha Biswasharma last week urged ‘friendly’ Bangladesh to take back Bengali settlers from Assam. Many believe the list may stand out to be a potential threat to Bangladesh at the end. Myanmar used a similar move in late 1980s at first denying Rohingyas their basic rights and then defranchised them taking away their citizenship right. Rohingyas finally landed in Bangladesh. It is too early to say how India will play the issue. Bangladesh must be watchful.
What sounds highly critical is that India is reportedly opening the updating of voters’ list in Assan from September 1 to end by October 15. The question is whether the people excluded in the NRC list will be registered as voter in the new list or to be left out of the voters’ list until their fate being settled first by NRC tribunals. Many may fall out in the process.
It may be a sinister to make those Bengali settlers in Assam – be it Muslims or Hindus- stateless citizens like the Rohingyas in Myanmar. There is also a growing fear that these people may be used as a pawn in any political game plan with Bangladesh or in local politics in India.
The move was launched in Assam four years back as a political tool to expel settlers who were blamed for increasingly destroying demographic balance in the state. They were treated as a growing political threat to local political elite wielding growing political influence winning election in growing number of seats.
Settlers’ children were also blamed for taking big chunk of job depriving the locals and BJP took the divisive sensitive issue to make access to state politics winning election for the first time to form the state government.
The NRC was a highly calculated move as various socio-political groups including All Assam Students Union (ASU) were spearheading the movements over the past decades. But when the NBR final list emerged it really turned out to be a big boomerang.
The final count released on August 31 showed almost twice excluded from the NRC list are Hindus migrated to Assam from East Pakistan before and after 1971. The excluded Muslims from the NRC list were those migrated to Assam before partition of India or before 1971.
The BJP leaders are now crying foul as the list has provoked sharp reaction in the local and national level from the growing possibility of expelling the Hindus back to Bangladesh now. Home Minister Amith Shah, the architect of the divisive politics is rushing to Guwahati this week to assess the situation.
The NRC count is not basically based on religious identity but informal disclosure showed out of the 19 lakh people on the exclusion list, 12 lakhs are alone Hindus. Even most voters known as BJP supporters have been identified as foreigners opening te big controversy over the counting.
In fact all such people are already integrated in socio-political life locally and nationally with voting rights and owning property as normal citizens. The NRC list at first excluded 40 lakh people as foreigners but then in the final counts it narrowed to half of them. It may not be a big figure if properly enumerated again.
Locals complaints that the enumerations were flawed and politically motivated to exclude as many people by openly turning down their documentary proof as local citizens who showed they are ancestors of their forefathers who settled over decades ago or closer to a century back.
Hari Arja, for example had produced documents that showed his grandfather Mahadev Das had fled to India from then East Pakistan and was also on the 1970 voter list. But he failed to finally prove that he was indeed the grandson of his grandfather.
“We gave our refugee card, our voter ID and our PAN card. We do not know if they want to throw out all Bengalis. Maybe they do not want us here,” he told media in reaction after finding his mane was missing. His neighbors, all Bengali-speaking Hindus and supporters of the BJP, confirmed his claim.
Fifty members of one family in Barpeta have been excluded from the final NRC list. Fifty two-year-old Ahmad Hussain, a primary school teacher and his entire family, including 15 children, have been left out of the final list. Interestingly, the entire family apart from a brother of Ahmad Hussain, was included in the draft NRC list but they have been left out in the final list.
Over 90 percent women of 300 families of a refugee camps in the Nowapara district remained undocumented. They are Santhal families migrated to Assam in 1964. Similar stories reported about residents of 17 refugee camps in Matia area of the district.
Such stories abound while locals are alleging that the NRC aims at securing expulsion of as many settlers no mater they possess citizenship documents dating back decades down to pre-partition time of India.
The BJP government in the center as driven by its extreme Hindutva doctrine mainly taking aim at the Muslims is already planning to launch such NRC drive in Delhi, West Bengal and such other places having presence of sizable Muslim population.
It is still unclear how the bitter experience in Assam will impact its plan to press such drive at other places. Contrary to it, Assam and central BJP are now weighing the possibility of seeking direction of the Supreme Court how the list may be reviewed or revised to bring out names of large number of Hindus from the exclusion list.
Hindus have largely migrated to India to live in a big country of people with similar Hindu religious faith and India welcomed such migration over the years giving shelters to them. Even the recent citizenship act of India allows automatic citizenship to the Hindus along with people of other faith or country, except the Muslims from Bangladesh.
NRC was thus basically used to single out Muslim settlers but the results have proved otherwise. People in Bangladesh are watching the development.