Can the foreigners subvert it?
Assam has the dubious distinction of conferring voting rights on citizens of doubtful (D) origins.In 1978 no less a person than the then Chief Election Commissioner of India, SL Shakdher, revealed the presence of a large number of illegal foreign nationals on the electoral rolls of Assam. Despite this serious flaw, a six year long mass anti-foreigners movement and continuous public protests against the presence of illegal immigrants,elections have continued to be held in Assam according to the faulty electoral rolls severely undermining the basic tenets of Indian democracy. Moreover because most of the illegal immigrants are Bangladeshi Muslims, any action against them has always attracted the stigma of minority harassment which is an abuse of the fundamental principle of secularism incorporated in our Constitution.
The migration of impoverished Muslim peasants from the Sylhet and Mymensing districts of erstwhile undivided Bengal to the sparsely populated fertile lands of Assam is a pre-Independence phenomena.The influx increased and took a politico-religious hue only when the British decided to Partition India along religious lines. Large-scale trans-migration of Muslim peasants was then encouraged so that Assam would have a sizable Muslim population and be included in erstwhile East-Pakistan ,now Bangladesh, during the Partition of India.After Independence these minority pockets have been exploited by unscrupulous politicians as captive vote-banks to get elected.Even now the trend continues with political patronage because the pursuit of power has taken precedence over patriotism. Consequently today these people have the political clout to oppose the government even in its attempts to fulfill its constitutional obligation of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951 which is necessary to identify the genuine Indian citizens.
The proposal to update the NRC on the basis of the 1951 records is being opposed mainly by the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a political party working for the minorities and which is also the main Opposition party in the Assam Assembly today. According to AAMSU the 1951 NRC has no legal authenticity as it is either incomplete or incorrect mainly in nine districts of the State. It also fears segregation with the 1951 lot enjoying indigenous status and entitled to all the rights, and the 1951-1971 batch entitled to the rights of food and shelter only.Both the organisations have asserted that the “D” voters must be included in the NRC update process as they believe these persons are victims of half literate and ethnically biased census officials who acted as enumerators.Hence they want a fresh NRC with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to determine the status of citizenship.
The 1951 NRC was the first comprehensive statistical record of the population of Independent India compiled under the aegis of the Registrar General of India. In 1952 the Election Commission of India used it as the basis of the first electoral rolls of democratic India. The first elections to be held in India in 1952 on the basis of adult suffrage was then hailed the world over as the most extensive and inclusive democratic exercise to have been undertaken. Thereafter the NRC has been updated every decade.While the electoral rolls have been periodically revised.To dismiss the NRC 1951 off-hand as legally inauthentic, incorrect and incomplete, is to question the credibility and capability of the constitutional bodies on which the democratic and demographic edifice of the country has been built. If inaccurate or unavailable there are enough correlating and subsequent data that can be referred to, to verify the antecedents of a person.But to dismiss the entire census data and documents from 1951-1971 and insist on a cut-off date of 1971 to establish the bonafide of a citizen is irrational.
The fears of segregation are also unfounded. According to clause 5.8 of the Assam Accord, illegal foreigners who came to Assam on or after 25th March 1971 will continue to be detected, deleted and deported. Hence all those who came to Assam upto March 24, 1971 have been accepted as a part of the population of Assam and are entitled to citizenship.As a result even though some two million (twenty lakh) people have been added to the population of Assam, in the interest of socio-political harmony this has been accepted by all sections of the people and political parties , including those who were opposed to the anti-foreigners movement.
Unnecessary controversy has also been created over the inclusion of the “D” voters in the NRC updating process.It has already been stated that “D” voters can apply for inclusion.But their final inclusion will be subject to clearance by the foreigners tribunals about their genuine citizenship status.Moreover all citizens are required to attach some documents as proof of their Indian citizenship alongwith the application form.There is a standard format issued by the office of the Registrar General of India according to guidelines set by the Citizenship Act of India that clearly defines the information and set of documents to be provided by an applicant to be eligible for inclusion in the NRC.However rules cannot be adjusted just to accommodate the demands of some people.Just like the demand from certain quarters to allow all documents accepted by the courts to be made eligible for submission for inclusion in the NRC cannot be justified.More so because over the years numerous rackets involving issuing of false documents like ration cards, domicile and birth certificates, etc have been regularly unearthed.
Yet there must be a permanent solution.If allowed to fester , the issue will only increase tensions that will lead to more ethnic and communal conflicts. As Bangladesh is not ready to even acknowledge far less accept the illegal immigrants back as its citizens, suggestions have been made that perhaps the only way out maybe to register all these people as Indian citizens because the unabated influx is more out of economic destitution rather than due to any sinister political designs. Precedents have been cited about Asian immigrants in Britain and Latin- American immigrants in the United States of America.If so then by accepting the pre-1971 lot,Assam has already taken its share of the burden.The remaining should then be re-settled in some of the more prosperous states of the country so that they can have a brighter economic future.This will also help ease the pressure on the scarce resources and burgeoning population of Assam.However whatever may be the solution,in national interest the government of India must have the political will and courage to find a permanent solution to the decades old problem.
The purpose of updating the NRC 1951 is to identify and compile a comprehensive record of the genuine Indian citizens in Assam. There are enough census data and population growth figures that show an unnatural increase in the population of Assam after 1971.That this alarming increase has been mainly in the population of the minority community and confined mainly to the districts bordering Bangladesh indicates unabated influx of illegal immigrants.This is a statistical fact,only the numbers may vary depending on one’s point of view.Therefore the protests against updating the NRC 1951 or suspending the process because of such protests can hardly be justified.The updating of the NRC 1951 must be completed,but adequate and extra precaution must be taken to ensure that genuine citizens are not harassed or victimised.