NRC exercise must be carried out across India, despite Mamata Banerjee’s threats of ‘civil war’
BY: Tuhin A Sinha
After a massive Supreme Court-monitored exercise to identify illegal settlers in Assam, nearly 40 lakh people were found to be ineligible citizens or illegal migrants. Now when an exercise of this magnitude takes places, it is only obvious that there will be some errors. And so to address these errors, the government has repeatedly reiterated that this list is a draft and not conclusive. Therefore, those found ineligible have a right to apply for a review till September.
In my opinion, the government’s firm, principled and yet perfectly reasonable approach is commendable. However, as expected it has ruffled India’s beleaguered Opposition to the extent that it does not know how to react. So while Mamata Banerjee doled out an open threat of civil war, Congress and TMC leaders disrupted BJP president Amit Shah’s speech on the issue in Parliament. In fact, so reckless is the Opposition’s reaction, that it makes one wonder what is it that is at stake for them.
Politics of the Indian subcontinent has over the centuries had at its core the issue of religious demography. Now in the 1951 Census, the first after Independence, the percentage of Hindus stood at 84.1 percent and Muslims at 9.8 percent. In 2011, these figures stood at 79.8 percent and 14.23 percent respectively. This effectively means that in a span of 60 years, the percentage of Hindus in India reduced by over five percent, while the percentage of Muslims grew by nearly 50 percent. Now this alteration in demography was precipitated by an institutional patronisation for illegal migration in Assam, Bengal and the entire North East.
In fact, the first time this problem set alarm bells ringing was four decades ago, when in a Lok Sabha bypoll in Assam in 1978, 70,000 new and dubious voters were enrolled in the voters’ list in the span of just two years. The late 1970s and early 1980s then saw one of the biggest student movements in the country against illegal migration, led by AASU (All Assam Students’ Union). This movement was to culminate in the signing of the Assam Accord, which carried at its core the decision, to prepare a new database of legal citizens. That this was not executed for the next three decades is a travesty.
Why is the NRC exercise so crucial?
There are three primary reasons:
First, in the absence of even basic knowledge of the real quantum of illegal migrants in a country, there is no way, a government can ensure primacy for its legal citizens, especially in states that are particularly prone to the problem.
Second, the exercise will pave the way for a formal refugee policy at the national level.
Thirdly, wilful tampering of a country’s religious demography is never healthy for the country’s social fabric, especially in the long run. Many European countries face a similar problem and seem to be clueless about handling it.
Is the NRC exercise a precursor to deportation?
One would imagine that option to be next to impossible, given India’s exemplary human rights record. However, other solutions like disenfranchisement or giving the illegal migrants temporary work permits, instead of citizenship, are certainly viable alternatives. What action will finally be taken, will be a long drawn process and will involve adequate deliberation. However, the NRC exercise in itself was long needed and will perhaps set an example for European countries, grappling with a similar problem.
Why is Mamata furious ?
Mamata had stated in the Lok Sabha on 4 August, 2005, “The infiltration in Bengal has become a disaster now… I have both the Bangladeshi and Indian voters lists. This is a very serious matter. I would like to know when it will be discussed in the House.” At around the same time, the then governor of the state, SK Sinha had categorically warned that in case this migration is not combatted immediately, it poses a big national security risk.
That Mamata is now doing a brazen U-turn should allay all misconceptions about her ‘genuine care for humanity’. The point is the NRC has dealt a virtual death blow to the greedy vote bank politics of a whole lot of Opposition parties. In all the recent riots of Bengal, particularly in Malda and Bashirhat, the illegal Bangladeshi population is supposed to have played a big role. This constituency is ingratiated to Mamata because she shelters them and allows them impunity.
In fact, through his years as Bihar chief minister during the 1990s, Lalu Prasad Yadav had facilitated the easy settling of Bangladeshis is border districts of Kishangunj, Purnea and Katihar. Now Mamata is doing the same in Bengal with greater brazenness and out of her venom against the Narendra Modi government. In fact, in the past three days, she has made some absolutely preposterous comments, first inviting the 40 lakh people of Assam left off the final NRC draft to come and settle in Bengal and then threatening an open civil war.
Politicians like Mamata and Rahul Gandhi, unfortunately are not the only people here who choose their vested interests over the nation’s security. In fact, I was quite appalled by the sheer absence of logic in some key members of Lutyens’ fraternity comparing illegal migrants in Assam with Indians working in the US. Now, the H-1B visa is an employment-based non-immigrant visa, procured legally under Sec 101(a)17(H)of the US Immigration Act and renewed every three years. If you fail to get renewal, you are deported immediately. Do illegal migrants in Assam carry visas?
Since when did professional naysayers care for logic anyway?
The criticism which NRC has evoked, is low on logic and emanates out of sheer greed. In fact, on the contrary, this is a step, which the core constituency of the BJP backs wholeheartedly. The time is indeed right to extend this exercise to the whole country. Let India show the way to the world on the issue of illegal migration — a problem half the world is confronting rather helplessly.
The author is a BJP leader and tweets @tuhins. Views expressed are personal.