The final draft of Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC), meant to identify a bona fide citizen, has led to political war between the BJP and the opposition. The ruling BJP claimed the NRC final draft a "promise fulfilled", but the Congress rejected it outright saying the idea of NRC was initiated by previous Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi who took up the issue with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The NRC's final draft has kept four million people out of citizenship. Assam Chief Minister Sarbanand Sonowal has assured that all genuine Indian citizens not included in NRC need not panic. Congress said that the NRC process was faulty and will raise several serious issues during implementation. The party raised questions on the very process of identification of illegal migrants saying that the Bharatiya Janata Party led governments at the Centre and in the state have purposely targeted particular groups. The Congress also accused BJP of creating a religious divide between Hindus and Muslims in the name of NRC.
Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to Tarun Gogoi, former Chief Minister of Assam, on the NRC issue and asked if NRC draft would pave the way for eviction of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from India. Gogoi, the most successful chief minister of Assam who had served for three consecutive terms since 2001, questioned the process adopted by NRC and accused the BJP of confusing people and dividing them on the basis of religion. He also said that identity politics has begun in Assam because of NRC. According to him, the ruling party is diverting public attention from real issues like hike in prices of LPG, petrol and vegetables and development etc. He said that the Citizens (Amendment) bill, if made into an Act, will nullify the updated NRC.
IC: The final draft of NRC is out and the BJP says that it has fulfilled the promise made in 2014.
Tarun Gogoi: No. It is my baby and not an initiative of the BJP. The BJP wanted to delay it. The Attorney General wanted to delay the whole process but the Supreme Court pushed it. How can they take credit for it? It is a false claim.
IC: The BJP has always been speaking against Bangladeshi immigrants and their deportation.
Who started NRC? The NRC was started during my tenure. The decision was taken when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister after I took the initiative. How can they take the credit? We want Bangladeshi immigrants to be identified and expelled. The BJP is trying to give Citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus through the controversial Citizenship Amendment bill which is contradictory to NRC. The BJP wants to give citizenship to Bangladeshis provided they are Hindus or any other communities other than Muslim. It proves that they are encouraging Bangladeshi Hindus.
IC: The unveiled draft of NRC has left four million people in Assam who had sought inclusion in the NRC. Are you satisfied with the identification process of illegal immigrants?
The process of draft is faulty and full of errors. Lakhs of genuine citizens have been excluded from the list. This has created a lot of tension in Assam. In some families, few have been included, others have been excluded. In some cases, wife's name is there but not the husband's name, or one brother's name is there but another brother's name is not present in the list. So there is lot of confusion. Family members of political leaders, army officers, relatives and government employees have been missing. Some foreigners' names have been included.
IC: Do you anticipate implementation of NRC will be a difficult task?
Yes. The question is not whether Hindus have been included or excluded. The issue is who is a foreigner or not foreigner. The BJP is trying to make a distinction between Hindu foreigner and Muslim foreigner and wants to give citizenship to Hindu foreigners through illegal means with the help of Citizenship Amendment bill.
IC: What are your concerns about NRC?
All the illegal immigrants should be identified and expelled from Assam. Precisely for this purpose, we started the NRC process. Unfortunately, NRC has not given clear picture as to how many are foreigners and how many are genuine Indian citizens. BJP President Amit Shah said that all 40 lakh people are illegal immigrants and accused Congress of giving protection to illegal immigrants. Congress gives protection to genuine Indian citizens.
IC: The BJP's concerns are electoral and political in nature. For instance, most of the Hindus, who have been left out of the draft NRC, are settled in lower Assam and the Barrak valley. So their exclusion will increase dominance of Muslims in the Parliamentary and assembly seats of the region. Muslims do not vote for the BJP.
It is wrong to divide people on the basis of religion. It means that the BJP does not believe in its own slogan - sabka saat, sabka vikas.
IC: Do you think the BJP will get political mileage in 2019 Lok Sabha elections ?
They will try to take credit for NRC but people of Assam are intelligent. The BJP will not succeed. I took up the issue with AASU and PM Manmohan Singh. It was the job of the central government to carry out the NRC process. In 2013, it was started and the BJP came to power in 2014. So, the BJP led government at centre carried out the exercise for four years.
IC: As former Chief Minister of Assam, what are your suggestions for dealing with anomalies in NRC?
They should ensure that all genuine Indian citizens are included in the NRC list. My fear is that BJP president Amit Shah's statement that all 40 lakh people are illegal immigrants, will influence the functioning of NRC on citizenship issue.
IC: There is a provision to make an appeal to the NRC for inclusion.
It is the poor who will face harassment at the hands of certain officials and will be denied of citizenship on frivolous grounds.
IC: Do you feel assured about Assam Chief Minister's appeal that genuine citizens should not get panic?
I have doubts over the efficiency of people involved in the NRC exercise because lakhs of people have been left out. Chief Minister has been giving this assurance for a long time. The final draft has several anomalies.(Published on 06th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 32)