Here’s what the practical implications of an NRC throughout India are
As the NRC debate is back in the limelight, we go back to the analysis of infamous tweet of the BJP during the Lok Sabha election campaign.
The BJP’s official twitter handle tweeted about the NRC on April 11th – the first day the nation went to polls.
The first thing that is wrong with the tweet is the glaring typo. Unless Amit Shah is a necromancer, it will be a bit difficult to resurrect Gautama Buddha from the dead.
Then, there is the added problem that Buddha was born in Lumbini. That’s in Nepal. It’s not one of the countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – that the BJP plans to accept people from.
But, I digress. There is a lot more going on than just the blatant exclusion of minorities like the Muslims, Christians, Jains, and Parsis.
The status of Assam
To better understand this tweet, we need to look at the state that is currently undergoing an updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC): Assam.
The northeastern state has seen many agitations over the entry of illegal immigrants from erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh.
The anti-immigrant movement peaked between the late ’70s and mid ’80s when the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) spearheaded a mass agitation.
It was centered on the idea of Assamese identity and the threat posed to its existence by the unchecked entry of immigrants from Bangladesh. This was especially felt in the ’70s; post the Bangladesh War of Liberation, when floods of people crossed the border into Assam.
The movement only came to an end in 1985 when the Rajiv Gandhi government, at the Centre, signed the historic Assam Accord with the AASU and the AAGSP.
The gist of the Accord was that there would be a background check of all the people in Assam. Anybody who came to the state after March 25, 1971 (the eve of the Bangladesh War) would be ‘detected’, ‘deleted’ (from the voters’ rolls), and ‘deported’ (sent back to where they came from).
The method to check who came in before the cut-off date? An updating of the NRC. There were multiple meetings and talks for years, after the signing of the Assam Accord, to figure out exactly how this was to be done.
But, nothing much really happened until the BJP came to power in the state of Assam in 2016. The saffron party had come to power in alliance with the AGP (the flag bearer of indigenous Assamese identity).
Citizenship Amendment Bill
All seemed to be going according to plan until the BJP government in the Centre pushed for the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament. The Bill sought to grant citizenship to those immigrants – from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – who were Hindu, Jain, Parsi, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu.
Most notably left out were the Muslims. This bill also clearly stated that it did not matter if the people from these six communities had entered India legally or not. They would still be eligible for citizenship.
This angered the Assamese people who did not see the immigration issue from the lens of religion. To them, it was a matter of legality. If people (or their direct ancestors) had legally entered before the March 25, 1971 cut-off date, they were Indian.
The entire northeastern region has been burning over this issue because they are the states that will have to take in the most immigrants, since they border Bangladesh.
Considering the uproar over the tweet, what are the implications if the NRC process is initiated throughout the country? Theoretically, it should not be a problem. But practically speaking, the updating process is fraught with errors.
NRC updating process
The final draft of the NRC, which was released on July 30th last year, left out 40 lakh people. What will happen to these individuals? Some of those left out are children whose entire families have been included in the NRC. Will they be dragged from their families and homes to detention camps? Does that not sound Nazi-like to you?
Furthermore, the BJP has now announced that this process will not apply to Hindus, Sikhs, and ‘Buddha’ (Buddhists). So, in practice, this means that only Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jains, are liable to be thrown out of the country.
But where will they go? Bangladesh has not officially accepted that any of its citizens have entered India illegally. The world’s largest democracy cannot stand around while its government renders millions of people stateless. This will amount to a severe human rights violation.
Chances are, this NRC process will also be used to intimidate those who oppose the BJP and its government.
Written an article against Modi-Shah? You might suddenly find that your family entered India ‘illegally’. Keep quiet or we will deport you. Or even worse, put you in inhumane detention camps.
Despite reassurances to the contrary, detention camps are being set up in Assam for those whose names have not been included in the final draft of the NRC.
The NRC updating process is complicated and is liable for misuse. But, the million dollar question is: Can we leave the fate of the Indian people in the hands of those who cannot even type a tweet without a glaring typo?