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Beyond National Register for Citizens

October 6, 2018 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


There has been much talk of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam relating to illegal immigrants, though many would like to paint it a communal issue. 52,000 Assam State government officials worked over three years (2015-2018) to produce the final draft. Over 40 lakh people who were left out in the initial draft applied for inclusion in the NRC. The State Coordinator of the NRC stated why over 40 lakh people were left out cannot be disclosed for reasons of confidentiality. The half-finished list of NRC published in January 2018 was on orders of the Supreme Court. Those left are permitted to reapply for inclusion with proof. Even after the final list is published, those not in the list can file affidavits with the foreign tribunal in Assam. This again may take months, maybe years to get resolved because most, if not all of those left out can be expected to file affidavits, assisted and supported from forces within and abroad given the political and communal twist given to this whole issue.

The genesis of the demographic turmoil in Assam can be traced back to 1983, when Congress regime at the Centre passed the infamous Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) IMDT Act; which virtually shielded illegal immigrants because under its provisions, the burden of proving the citizenship or otherwise rested on the accuser and the police, not the accused - major departure from the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946. Besides, it was mandated that the accuser had to be residing within three kilometer radius of the accused. The accuser was required to file an application, not accusing more than 10 persons and deposit a fee.

Instituting 1983 IMDT Act specifically for Assam, while Foreigners Act 1946 applied to balance India, was an anti-national act of gigantic proportions with malicious intent. Significantly, before formation of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman wrote in his book ‘Eastern Pakistan: Its Population, and Economics’ that “because East Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion, it must include Assam to be financially and economically strong”. For some strange reason the Supreme Court took no suo moto cognizance of the IMDT Act when it was applied to Assam in 1983. It was only after a legal case filed against it that the Supreme Court finally scrapped this unwarranted Act in 2005. However, the original demography of Assam had been drastically altered over the intervening 22 years. At the same time, illegal immigrants in Assam would not be from Bangladesh alone, but from other countries also - like Myanmar. They would probably include Rohingyas also, including and other than those accepted by the Congress government as UNHCR refugees despite India not being signatory to UN 1951 Refugee Convention nor its 1967 Protocol - another demographic conspiracy fitting into the larger geopolitical game. Do we address the issue of multiplication of numbers of illegal immigrants over the years and its implications towards national security. Take presence of 40,000 Rohingyas in India reported some years back, what would the number have multiplied by now? If PC Chidambaram as Home Minister colonized 4000 Rohingyas in Jammu despite Article 370, and despite India not being signatory to UN Convention of Refugees, that number has multiplied many times over, some also found with Aadhaar cards. UNHCR did not turn Islamist overnight with the recent UNHRC Report on Kashmir. It obviously was playing larger game in synch with the Indian government when latter accepted Rohingya refugees. The NRC undoubtedly is about illegal foreigners, not Muslims issue as some politicians, scholars and paid media. The question is what now. The Modi government has announced that the exercise for NRC will be expanded pan-India to all States and UTs. Even if it can be taken up simultaneously, which is unlikely, how many years would that take to prepare final NRCs of all States and UTs? What happens to those not included in the final NRC of Assam, which too will take considerable time for scrutiny and approval by the Supreme Court? We don’t have any agreement with Bangladesh for return of illegal immigrants. We may not give them voting rights but fake cards are also reality. If Assam alone has 40 lakh illegal immigrants (ballpark figure), what would be the pan-India figure in crores? What about their numbers multiplying over the years? What about their children born in India? What about few crores of those milling around in the country without voting rights; and the type of problems that can occur? Can they be stopped from migrating to other states and acquiring Indian identity, which has already happened at least in Delhi-NCR?

Is the government confident of repatriating them to parent country, if they have not even been able to relocate 4000 plus Rohingyas out of Jammu despite intelligence reports of their involvement in terrorist activities, including in the terrorist attack on Sunjwan military camp in January 2018? These are complex issues that require detailed analysis and action. Without this, the NRC exercise will boil down to an election-related gimmick where the exercise of de-franchising too will remain partially effective because of multiple loopholes, no matter the propaganda.