Guwahati, September 22,2021: With the Assam Assembly elections coming up next year, the state BJP is leaving no stone unturned to come back to power. It is aggressively rekindling its demand for reverification of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published on August 31, 2021. It now appears that they have the Centre’s blessings for the same.
The matter was discussed at a meeting held on September 20 at the residence of union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. The meeting was attended by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, State minister and North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Joint Secretary (North-east) Satyendra Garg, and Assam Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna, among others.
While a variety of subjects were raised at this meeting, what stood out was a discussion on the Assam government’s desire to file a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court demanding reverification of NRC. Speaking to media persons after the meeting, Himanta Biswa Sarma said that it was decided that the Central government will support the state government’s affidavit that proposed a reverification of up to 20 percent in border areas and 10 percent in other districts. Sarma said, “When the matter comes up for hearing, the two governments will jointly take up the issue.”
It is noteworthy that the last time this demand was made, the Supreme Court had rejected it. A key reason for rejection was a submission by then NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela that 27 percent reverification had already been done! This rendered the need for a 10-20 percent reverification unnecessary. Hajela had submitted his report in a sealed cover, and this secret report was so strong and competent, that the Attorney General and Solicitor General who were appearing on behalf of Union government and government of Assam respectively in the Supreme Court, didn’t utter a single word in court on the subject. Moreover, no other party backed the demand for reverification.
Following this, the BJP government in Assam has been allegedly continuously trying to malign Hajela. It allegedly compelled Prateek Hajela to leave Assam. The Supreme Court transferred the Assam and Meghalaya cadre IAS officer to Madhya Pradesh amidst a growing threat to his life. Hajela was replaced by Hitesh Dev Sharma. Assam BJP has allegedly tried to score political brownie points by adding a communal hue to the NRC, and was allegedly upset that not enough members of the minority community were excluded from it.
Even when it came to objections filed against inclusion of so called ‘foreigners’ in the NRC, it was later discovered that the objections were made on flimsy grounds, with the objectors often failing to appear for hearings. But even when they were present, in most cases they ended up making a written or oral submission that they had submitted the objection without any valid points.
On the other hand, after publication of final NRC, there were complaints that lakhs of people have been dropped from final NRC due to gross discrimination. In many cases, one or both parents were included in the final NRC, but their children were excluded! In other cases, a portion of a family tree was included, but the rest mysteriously excluded. In some other cases, children are included but parents are excluded. Married women were largely excluded from the NRC, even though their brothers and sisters are included.
Most importantly, NRC authorities had to serve the reason of exclusion within 7 days from the date of publication of the final NRC. But they failed to do so even an year later, mainly because they failed to find a valid reason for exclusion. Under these circumstances, the stand of the government on reverification will lead to another round of harassment for poor and marginalised sections of people in the name of NRC.
Now, in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the subsequent unplanned lockdown and still reeling under political backlash generated in wake of the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the Assam BJP is scrambling to hold on to power and the reverification bid could be its last Hail Mary!