Clearly lessons haven’t been learnt from the Assam exercise and a pan-India push is rather brazen
This Modi Government, and we need to make the distinction from the 2014 version, is feverishly on a manifesto-fulfillment spree for its supporters rather than wish-fulfillment of voters who empowered it with an unprecedented Lok Sabha verdict. Either that or it believes that real governance issues and a halting economy are too tough to tackle at the moment and, therefore, the nation needs an “otherisation” of focus and a new enemy. In this case, “alien feeders” robbing our resources. Or it believes in creating such a disruption in the political economy that it can justify its role as a changemaker attempting to rewrite a nation’s destiny, which apparently seems to have not found its identity and legitimacy at the ripe old age of 72. What else could explain Home Minister Amit Shah’s pledge to pursue the tabulation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across all States despite burning fingers in Assam and his own State unit seeking a review of the process? Ostensibly meant to isolate infiltrators, who have settled here and may well have even featured in the Aadhaar directory, it is a fig leaf for flushing out not just Bangladeshi migrants but scaring the minority community in general. If we do not make the cut in this blatantly exclusionary document, either because of a lack of documents, some from our grandparents’ times, or some perceived inconsistency, a vast majority of Indians could be Stateless and without rights. Rather the intent is to demolish the social plurality of India and impose majoritarian consent by creating a national electoral college of cheer-leading dogmatists on all matters of national consequence. The final NRC list for Assam, which was meant to segregate those born of the soil from settlers who came into the State after 1971, has found 19 lakh citizenship claims illegal. And while the party may have thought this number would be of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, turns out a huge number of those left out are Bengali-speaking Hindus, a core constituency. Rights activists have been claiming for a long time that most Muslim migrants were beaten back anyway before 1971.
Till date, there has been no express reason cited for undertaking a costly logistical exercise in stressed times. Does the NRC list mean that all our past attempts at census were flawed and discriminatory? There is no specific policy in the cut-off date as cross-border migrations have happened before Partition and even between 1950 and 1971, at different times and in different States. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that no person can be arbitrarily deprived of his/her nationality. By that yardstick, the cut-off set at 1971 amounts to arbitrary deprivation, since many refugees have been settled and even naturalised over varying timelines. How can we then have a national consensus on a cutoff date? Besides, the NRC is a razor’s edge walk as at the moment it reeks of racial and religious discrimination. And what of the status of the Stateless, assuming all of them won’t get redress from a tribunal? Bangladesh has already disowned its share in the infiltration issue and has extracted a promise from India that it won’t be deporting people across the borders. How can we prove their Bangladeshi origins, if any? We cannot rile up Bangladesh, the more friendly of our neighbours given the Chinese ring of diplomacy in the region, and expect it cushion our push-back drive. Besides, previous experiences have shown that those deported have again returned to the country. What the BJP badly miscalculated was that the Assamese demand for restoring the State’s demographic pattern is more sub-cultural than religious, one which has linked the supremacy of Ahom identity to the exclusion of others. Historically, Bengalis have suffered from this identity politics, simply because they controlled the economic resources of the region during the British raj. So while the BJP is planning to amend the citizenship law to allow Hindus returning from foreign countries to become Indian citizens, Assam and the North-east will not welcome that influx either. The BJP has clearly failed to understand local pride and mistaken it as national identity. Besides, it must realise that migration has changed geopolitics everywhere and here we are talking of 50 years of settler families, who, for whatever wrong reason of votebank politics by various parties, have not only been naturalised but have established valid credentials and permeated the system. What the BJP should have done is concentrated on stopping illegal immigration here on and codified new border protocols.
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