It is difficult to make a realistic estimate of the number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh because they enter surreptitiously and are able to mingle easily with the local population due to ethnic and linguistic similarities. The demographic composition in the districts bordering Bangladesh has altered with the illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The districts of Assam and West Bengal bordering Bangladesh have recorded growth of population higher than the national average. The States of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura have also recorded high rates of population growth. Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have also been using West Bengal as a corridor to migrate to other parts of the country”
– Supreme Court of Bharat in Sarbananda Sonowal vs Union of India & Anr case on July 12, 2005
Finally, a crucial stage of updating of the National Register for Citizenship (NRC) in Assam is over. Some in media and political circles are happy to find loopholes in the NRC and projecting it as a Hindu-Muslim issue. International media is also playing with the fire and attacking the Government for completing the process as per the schedule given by the Supreme Court. Of Course, there are many aspects where corrective actions will be required and showing political will to implement the future steps of delete and deport, after detecting the illegal migrants will be much tougher. While doing so, there is a need to straighten the record on the entire exercise and working on the lessons learnt from the same before moving ahead.
This was a Supreme Court directed and monitored process and therefore, it should be seen from the national-legal point of view rather than a secular-communal prism. Whatever may be the political positioning of the Congress Party, it is also a fact that the commitment to undertake this exercise was given by Rajiv Gandhi through Assam Accord way back in 1985. The same Accord affirms that for ‘purposes of detection and deletion of foreigners, 1.1.1966 shall be the base data and year’, and ‘names of foreigners so detected will be deleted from the electoral rolls in force’. This was necessitated to provide certain safeguards for Assamese people to protect, preserve and promote their cultural and linguistic identity.
If we take into account enormity of the issue, then the argument regarding time and cost looks superfluous. The ever-increasing presence of migrants began to alter the social, cultural, economic and political scenario of Assam and led to conflicts between the indigenous people and the migrants. The 1891 Census stated that 8 per cent of the population of Assam was Muslims including the Bengali Muslim migrants. But in the 1961 Census the corresponding figure rose to 24 per cent. Muslim population rose to such an extent that Assam was second only to Jammu & Kashmir as a major Muslim state.
The NRC exercise may look futile for some as some genuine citizens are there in the excluded list while many illegal migrants saved themselves from exclusion. In fact, this is the biggest learning for the entire system and for us as a society. We as citizens of Bharat either are not serious or at times sceptical about Government initiatives to make our legal documents fool proof. Illegal migrants, on the other hand, penetrating in the corrupt system first take the documents and then migrate, making themselves safe from any legal action. The Court will have to take this aspect into account while taking a call on the published list. The mismatch we find in the exercise also has the regional political connotation where all Bengalis are seen as illegal migrants by some groups in Assam, which is a dangerous proposition. In the document verification process, whether there was any lapse from the local State Government officials is also a matter of concern for the Courts. People from persecuted communities like Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist, Christians etc also find themselves in the excluded list. This precisely is the reason why the Union Govt. wanted to bring in Citizenship Amendment Bill which many opposedmindlessly.
While taking the logic of NRC forward, securing the international borders to avoid all kinds of illegal migration, and implementing development and connectivity related clauses of the Assam Accord are also vital. Construction of Rail-cum-Road Bridge over river Brahmaputra near Bogibeel with link lines of North & South Banks should be seen in this light. The Bharat-Bangladesh boundary settlement is also a significant and positive step. The issue of illegal migration is not limited to Assam but has wider security connotation to entire Bharat, especially to the East and Northeast region.
The contract between State and citizens has a great sanctity and is an expression of sovereignty. Illegal migrants’ impinging upon the social, cultural, economic and political rights of the legal citizens is the breach of sanctity and sovereignty, both. Our Constitution is our sanctimonious contract and somebody using illegal means to weaken it is a threat to national security. With this spirit, we need to see the NRC, corrective measures and future implementation.