The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on July 30, 2018 leaving out over four million people who had applied to enroll in the Register making it an attempt to deprive largest number of people of citizenship. While Govt. has stated in the Parliament that this is only a draft and those left out will have an opportunity to produce the requisite documents before the NRC is finalized in December 2018, President of ruling BJP Amit Shah has stated that all these four million people left out are infiltrators from Bangladesh and will be thrown out. This statement of Shah is in line with Modi’s statements during Assam elections that Bangladeshis should pack their bags to be deported. There is an ominous ring to the exercise.
Assam is linguistically, culturally, ethnically and religiously a mixed society where people with different identities have been living for centuries, contributing to the economic life of the region and interacting to produce what is Assamese society today. These have come to Assam over last two centuries since Assam was brought under colonial rule by British in 1826 taking it from the then Burma. Even before this, Assam had a large number of tribals. British colonial rulers took Bengalis as employees of their colonial rule. Tribals from Jharkhand were brought for tea plantations, Bengalis were encouraged to migrate for agriculture, Nepalis too came in over this period. In addition, predominantly Bengali region of Barak Valley was sliced off the Sylhet district when it was merged with the then Pakistan. These people joined the new state of Assam (post-partition) along with their land. This mixture was ready made for the colonial rulers to deepen and exploit the divisions for maintaining their colonial rule. They made different communities fight each other and this has been kept alive by the ruling classes that came to power in India after 1947. 1947 partition carved out by the British colonial rulers in league with exploiting classes organized under the banner of Congress and Muslim League tore asunder the fabric of these societies and has left an indelible mark over the subsequent developments. It is worth noting that Congress leadership at the Centre and in Assam was happy to give over the Muslim majority Sylhet district of the then Assam keeping only a part of Barak Valley. So overnight people became foreigners, their economic and social life disrupted. Assam Congress Govt. dominated by Assamese elite, announced in May 1948 that migrants to Assam after partition would not have right to own lands. Gopinath Bardoloi had declared that “Assam is for Assamese (khalonjia) only”. Later the protests in 1961 against declaration of Assamese as the sole official language in 1960, was brutally crushed.
The background of the updating of NRC in Assam is the implementation of Assam Accord signed between Central Govt. led by Rajiv Gandhi and AASU in 1985 after a violent agitation since late 1970s over the demand for exclusion of ‘foreigners’ from the voter list. Bengalis particularly Bengali Muslims were attacked, the most infamous being Nelli massacre where more than three thousand Bengali Muslim inhabitants were butchered. The agitation was fuelled by the apprehension that large-scale presence of migrants from East Bengal (later Bangladesh) threatened to reduce them to a minority. This apprehension shared by Assamese also became a tool of Assamese chauvinists to target Bengalis. Mrs. Gandhi Govt. had enacted the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT) for detection of ‘foreigners’. This was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2005 on a petition by the present BJP Chief Minister and earlier AASU and AGP leader Sarbananda Sonowal. Updating of NRC in Assam was then agreed upon during a tripartite meeting between Central Govt., Assam Govt. and AASU representatives. However, it gained speed after Supreme Court intervened to expedite the process directing it to be completed by the end of 2016. While Supreme Court monitored the process, the actual registration was done by the officials of the state govt. Supreme Court intervened to expedite the process but did not lay down the requirements for such registration nor issued the guidelines for the officials conducting the exercise. The insistence on producing documentary evidence of family tree has been particularly difficult for the poorer sections who generally do not have nor do they keep such documentary evidence over a long period of time.
This was made a tool by RSS-BJP for their fascist drive targeting Muslims. According to RSS propaganda there are 15 million illegal migrants from Bangladesh, nearly 8 million of them in West Bengal, 5 million in Assam and rest in other states including 13 lakh in Delhi. It is part of the large RSS game plan to construct its ‘nationalist’ plank on anti-Muslim. Lynchings in the name of protection of cows, campaigns of ghar wapasi, riots in the name of love jihad and Beti Bachao, are part of this design. Their targeting of Muslims in the name of Bangladeshis is part of that and also to carve out communal division in eastern states like Assam and Bengal to spread their influence. RSS-BJP Govt. at the Centre brought a Bill in 2016 seeking to amend Citizenship Act aimed at giving citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Budhs, Jains and other communities to the exclusion of Muslims in the name that they are facing religious prosecution in their countries. The Bill seeks to paint the neighbouring Muslim countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan as places where prosecution of Hindus and other minorities is taking place and thus further its project of Hindu Rashtra. This is in line with the RSS-BJP design of population exchange which they had advocated at the time of partition.
Faced with the people rising in struggles against betrayal of promises made by the RSS-BJP during 2014 elections and rising struggles of the people, continued sluggish performance of economy, lack of employment generation and growth in the number of unemployed and its upper caste chauvinist communal agenda being resisted by large sections of Dalits and backwards, RSS-BJP is deepening communal polarization to intensify its fascist drive. These conspiracies are going to aggravate to divert the people’s attention from its failures and to disrupt their struggles by dividing the people.
This drive of RSS-BJP Govt. should also be seen in the context of ruling classes of imperialist countries targeting migrants to divert the attention of their people from rising sense of despondency and deepening economic crisis. While Trump Admn. is targeting migrants from neighbouring Mexico trying to erect a wall and inhumanly keeping small children away from their parents, ruling classes in European countries are targeting refugees from third world countries for the problems in their societies.
However, the Hindu communal design of RSS-BJP is meeting an obstacle in the linguistic chauvinism in Assam who wish to consolidate their hegemony. It is apparent in the opposition in Assam to the RSS-BJP Govt.’s 2016 Bill seeking to amend Citizenship Act.
Exclusion of over four million people from the final draft and RSS-BJP propaganda have created a very serious situation in Assam. Not only do the documents sought to establish one’s right to be included in the register defy logic, these are not easily available for the poor sections who constitute the overwhelming number of those excluded. Further these are being applied selectively for those with different linguistic groups. Those excluded belong to Bengali, Jharkhandi, Nepali and even Hindi speaking labouring masses. The Govt. officials are talking about their right to approach High Court and Supreme Court even after they are determined as foreigners but it is not easy for these sections to approach these Courts for want of resources.
Those who were earlier detected as ‘foreigners’ are being kept in detention camps. Now there is a threat of a large number of people being thrown into these detention camps. It is an extremely grave situation facing them.
Supreme Court which had mandated the updating of NRC must rise to the occasion to ensure that poor sections are not harassed. People should not be asked to again submit the documents, they have done so at great pains. The officials should be instructed to verify these documents by visiting them in their homes and villages. Moreover, nobody should be allowed to be harassed. Supreme Court should set aside the final draft and instruct the officials to prepare the new list settling all claims and objections. Even those who are not included in the NRC should not only be given fullest opportunity to prove their case, they should be afforded an opportunity to pursue their vocations. It is the duty to treat them in humane manner and respect their democratic rights.
CPI(ML)-New Democracy strongly opposes RSS-BJP drive to carve out communal division and target minorities particularly Muslims in the name of NRC. We call upon all democratic sections and all progressive organizations to oppose the harassment of the people in the name of updating NRC and fight for the rights of poor and backward sections who must not be deprived of their citizenship.
CPI(ML)-New Democracy appeals to the people of Assam not to fall prey to the communal divisive designs of RSS-BJP and to the propaganda of chauvinists of all hues. They should forge unity in their struggle against exploitation and oppression.
August 1, 2018