When the final version of the NRC in Assam was published, sober opinion in Assam accepted it as more or less a reliable document with potential to cool down torrid temperatures in rival ethnic camps.
But pro-Hindutva activists and the BJP itself rent skies crying foul. They were mortified that the 40 lakhs excluded in the first draft, which they hoped would be augmented by 10 or 20 lakhs more in the final version, had been reduced to 19 lakhs, and out of these 10 lakhs were left hanging thanks to refusal or deliberate delay by West Bengal and Bihar governments in supplying relevant documentary evidence at their disposal.
It is clear that the most representative immigrant Muslim bodies in Assam came round to accepting that figure. Some revisions were on the cards, but not turning the register on its head. But, some small activist groups from that community continued to denounce it.
By this they strengthened the dangerous claims of the BJP and its various hangers-on. And now, Pandora’s box is being opened again.
The successor to Prateek Hajela, the Co-ordinator working under direct monitoring of the Supreme Court who was threatened and çompelled to seek precipitate transfer by the saffron hooligans, was Hitesh Deb Sarma. And over his appointment itself there is a big question-mark.
Deb Sarma had been earlier appointed by the state government as executive director (finance) of the project. But from day one of his in office, he made repeated and frequent interference with the normal and careful work of the project, threatening and warning employees that unless more ‘Bangladeshis’ were blacked out they will suffer consequences. He also instigated inflammatory reports in the press about alleged exemption to millions of foreigners.
Hajela kept quiet watch on him and when his misconduct crossed limits, confronted him one day with incontrovertible evidence of his many misdeeds. He was forced to accept responsibility for his malfeasance and sign a statement admitting his unworthiness to hold any responsible official position. The state government, which had appointed him in the first place to do its bidding, appointed him D.C. (DM) of Karbi Anglong district as a compensation, but when Hajela informed the Chief Secretary of his self-accusatory confession, his appointment as D.C. had to be annulled.
So, when after Hajela’s abrupt departure, Deb Sarma was installed as his successor, some organisations including our Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill (FACAAB) objected, but the state government turned a deaf ear. However, when the minority students’ organization ABAMSU raised objections before Supreme Court, his appointment came under a cloud. The SC sought the response of Assam Government to ABAMSU petition, and according to sources in ABAMSU it allegedly stated that it had not found any complaints against him in his record. The ABAMSU promptly came back with evidence of such misdemeanour that we have already mentioned. Hence the matter is still sub judice, and the incumbent has no authority to go beyond routine business.
Now it is curious that press reports state clearly that his instructions to district authorities were verbal. And he only asked them to be brisk in marking names of DFs (Declared Foreigners) and DVs (Doubtful Voters).
It is also relevant that the Border Police do have the power to mark suspected foreigners in NRC and bring them before FTs. I have repeatedly stressed in my various articles and interviews that owing to inexperience and sometimes unconcealed bias of some members of one-man Foreigners’ Tribunals, many cases judged by them apparently victimised innocents. (Last year a letter by some FT members betraying grave prejudice had been published in Sabrangindia.in.)
Now the new co-ordinator’s instructions appear to be a signal to Border Police and other agencies to work overtime to increase the numbers of disenfranchised. As though on cue, interested circles are getting vocal in hailing the new co-ordinator’s activism and are demanding that their head-count of millions of disguised infiltrators be confirmed. Unless the courts intervene, the NRC may turn into a leaky sieve instead of a sealed and water-tight vessel.
*The author is a highly respected Assamese intellectual, a literary critic and social-scientist from Assam. Views expressed are the authors own.