BJP’s Forked Tongues: NRC, Assam

That the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) uses the tool of the ongoing NRC process, the citizenship issue, not as a ‘genuine’ process to establish the worth of citizens, but as a means towards its particular brand of whiplash politics is clear from the contrarian statements from its prominent top brass as the date for the publication of the final draft NRC list drew close.

Himanta Sarma
For the past week, the state government and even the central ministry of home affairs have been sending out ‘re-assuring signals’ on the issue of both legal aid and generally. While the chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal’s was the softer voice, urging people to behave as “a mature society” and not treat those whose names are not in the rolls as foreigners illegally staying in Assam until the tribunals decide so, cleary Biswas his deputy has no qualms toeing a more belligerent, even provocative line.

“We have lost hope in the present form of the NRC right after the draft,” Himanta Sarma, a minister in the state cabinet and a hardliner is reported to have said. reported that he went further to ‘warn’ that the National Register of Citizens or NRC — the list intended to identify legal residents and weed out illegal immigrants from the northeastern state – cannot be viewed as a “red letter” for the Assamese society. The senior BJP leader indicated that he had little faith the list would really help get rid of foreigners. There is worse in store for the hapless unlettered millions of the state who have barely survived six years of this tortuous process. Sarma said that the government was already looking beyond and discussions were on both in Assam and at the centre on new strategy on tackling illegal migrants. “At Dispur and Delhi we have already started fresh strategy on how we can drive out the illegal migrants and we will so come up with new plans,” he said.

So another threat? And who is this aimed at ? The Bharatiya Janata Party Delhi chief Manoj Tiwari says that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is also needed in Delhi. “NRC needed in Delhi as situation is becoming dangerous. Illegal immigrants who have settled here are the most dangerous. We will implement NRC here as well,” he said. Clearly for the rabidly rightwing outfit, their politics is one of negativism built on a a perpetual demonisation of sections of the population, sometimes questioning their patriotism, other times even their nationality. At the heart of these rants is always a deeply anti-Muslim sentiment. Mark the recent words of a central minister on minority dominated seats like Wayanad, or the constant use of phrases by the central BJP leadership when referring to migrants as ‘termites.’

Clearly for the sabgh parivar and its parliamentary wing, the issue is simply about Muslim-baiting. Not only have many BJP leaders have raised concerns over a large number of Bengali Hindus being left out of the NRC. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, after meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah last week, had said the centre may consider a law to remove foreigners who could have entered the list and add genuine citizens who could have been left out. The NRC, first published in Assam in 1951, is being updated following Supreme Court orders to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who have illegally entered the state from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971.

Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Union Home Minister Amit Shah held discussions on the impending situation arising out the final publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list on August 31,2019. Following these meetings, local media reported that a policy decision has been taken to give legal aid to all those excluded from the list.

Significantly, Sonowal has gone out of the way to assert that there was no need to panic and not all those excluded from the final list are ‘not necessarily not Indians.’ With a week to go, and anxieties mounting on the situation that hundreds of thousands may have to face given the bureaucratic hurdles and ‘mistakes’ that are anticipated, these announcements are welcome, if not overdue.

The MHA has also reportedly extended the deadline for the filing of appeals to 120 days (two months). What is still unclear is whether this date will start getting counted from the date when the victims of exclusion get the ‘certified copy of the order from NRC and all documents’ or not. This would be crucial in making these appeals viable and effective. The MHA press release may be .read here.




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