Musings on Migration, Labour, Politics, Dissent etc.
– Bonojit Hussain
This brief note was first published in raiot.in on 5th January.
Assam is no stranger to controversies, in fact, the political nerves of the ‘Assamese national life-world’ (Axomiya jatiyo jiban) are not satisfied if it is not titillated by controversies once or twice a week. An elderly and highly educated woman recently told me on the phone that it is “good Akhil Gogoi is out of the prison, otherwise primetime news and politics in Assam was hitting a new level of boredom”.
Assam burns thrice a week, at least during prime time news/debate on the screens of five news channels owned by politicians, wannabe politicians who are media barons etc. This week’s heroes and villains have been declared. Heroes are Prateek Hajela (the CEO of NRC administration in Assam), Abhijit Sarmah who filed the case in Supreme Court regarding updating of NRC-1951, then Pradeep Bhuyan for ‘being the actual man behind’ who funded the case initially. Villains are BJP MLA Shiladitya Dev, BJP MP R.P Sharma, and the biggest one among the villains is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Didi’s effigy has been burnt across Assam today and several FIRs have been lodged against her in Guwahati.
Mamata Banerjee, yesterday in a political rally, gave a warning to BJP not to play with fire. It seems she believes NRC is a “BJP conspiracy to drive away Bengalis from Assam to West Bengal” and that she “will not tolerate any such conspiracy”.
Across the political spectrum in Assam, her potentially inflammatory comments have been condemned including by the state unit of Communist Party of India (Marxist).
All Assam Students Union (AASU) went a step ahead and asked her not to poke her nose in matters what is internal to a different State ie; Assam. It would perhaps auger well for AASU if they can drill well into their political mind that Mamata Banerjee has every right to give a statement on NRC like any other citizens of India because NRC is not a matter internal to Assam. Assam is not yet a separate country; NRC is being updated under the Clause 4 of the Schedule to Citizenship Rules, 2003 which is a Central legislation; Prateek Hazela is not the ultimate authority of NRC, it is the Registrar General of India; and it is being updated under the supervision of Supreme Court of India.
But having said that, Mamata Banerjee should not have poked her nose with half-baked knowledge and make polarising statements like she did yesterday and that is what is highly condemnable.
For anyone who is in the know of political developments in Assam, such wild statements are at the least laughable.
The Assam BJP government played all the tricks up its sleeves to delay the publication of the draft NRC.
Updating the NRC is an attempt at bringing a closure to the vexed foreigners’ issue in Assam, an issue over which thousands have lost their lives in Assam. Even though there are many daunting challenges after the final NRC is published and there are many loose ends to tie. There is a commonsensical understanding that people whose name don’t appear on the NRC will be deported to Bangladesh; that is a hogwash, the Indian government has not yet informed (even if informally) Bangladesh government that such an exercise has been taken up. That apart, Mamata Banerjee should know well that NRC is not an attempt at officially determining who is Assamese or Bengali, Hindu or Muslim (that’s the job of Census authorities and they have done that in 2011).
In fact, in a rare moment, all organisations representing all ethnicities and communities, and political parties across the political spectrum are in agreement that there should be a fair and error-free NRC. Among various organisations, the organisations representing the religious minority (of East Bengali origin) in Brahmaputra valley have also spent a tremendous amount of energy running awareness campaigns to educate people how to apply correctly for NRC updating. Religious minority (of East Bengali origin) are the ones for whom NRC is a matter of utmost importance as they believe that once they are recognised through NRC as legitimate citizens of India, their continued everyday harassment by chauvinist forces will cease.
In fact, what perhaps Mamata Banerjee doesn’t know or pretends not to know is that the only force that didn’t want the NRC is RSS and BJP. The Assam BJP government played all the tricks up its sleeves to delay the publication of the draft NRC. If it was not for the Supreme Court, the partial draft that has been published on the midnight of 31st December would not have been published.
After the publication of the partial draft of NRC, it is only some BJP leaders who have been making polarising and rabidly communal statements much to the anger of all other organisations including the All Assam Students Union. And it seems to me that BJP is also unhappy that communal violence didn’t break out after midnight of 31st December and everything went ahead peacefully.
Here it is perhaps important to note that leaders of the ruling party were ever busy making comments for months that there will be “unprecedented violence” in 14 or 15 Muslim (allegedly of Bangladeshi) majority districts of Assam and that 45 companies of central paratroopers will be deployed.
BJP has reasons not to be wholeheartedly in favour of a fair and error-free NRC. Firstly, if a fair and error-free NRC is completed under a non-polarised environment BJP might just have to partially shut shop that invokes bogey of Bangladeshis for everything under the sun. Secondly, the final NRC might throw up ‘unexpected’ results; my hunch is that a large percentage of non-citizens will turn out to be Hindu Bengali immigrants from the neighbouring country who came to Assam after the cut-off date of 24th March 1971. That is the reason why Assam BJP leaders made a dash for Delhi after Supreme Court ordered that partial draft have to be published by midnight of 31st December. They made the dash to Delhi to impress upon the Indian government to pass the communally motivated Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 with renewed urgency so that the Hindu Bangladeshis found to be non-citizens can be granted citizenship.
That is also the reason why BJP leaders like Shiladitya Dev and RP Sharma are busy barking up the communal tree. Shiladitya Dev alleged that names of Bangladeshi Muslims have been included in the first partial draft of the NRC. To take things further, Tezpur BJP MP R.P Sharma has commented that out of 1.10+ crores Muslims in Assam 70 lakh are “illegal infiltrator”, opinion much akin to Praveen Togadia of Vishwa Hindu Parishad who just months said that 70 lakh Muslims should be gunned down by Indian Army.
So Mamata didi you are wrong, the conspiracy is the other way round – to settle and grant citizenship to more Bengalis in Assam albeit along the communal line. You can do better by putting your political weight behind opposing the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 like your party declared in 2016, but no you haven’t done enough on that front.