The long-awaited second and final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on Monday, and included 2.9 crore names out of the total 3.29 crore applicants in Assam. The names of 40.07 lakh applicants did not find a place in the historic document, touted to be a proof of Assamese identity.
The process began about 5 years ago under the Congress government in Assam with the then chief minister Tarun Gogoi at the helm of affairs. In a Supreme Court judgment dated 17 December, 2014, the apex court fixed a timeline to update and publish the NRC, and said that it will monitor the process. The first draft of the NRC was published during the intervening night of 31 December, 2017 and 1 January, 2018, which included 1.9 crore names.
Gogoi, former and longest-serving chief minister of Assam, spoke to Firstpost about the final NRC draft released on Monday, and elaborated on what more has to be done by the government, both Centre and state, before the final document is published. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Firstpost (FP): Do you think the draft has included all legitimate citizens of Assam?
Tarun Gogoi: No. A large number of genuine Indian citizens have been left out in my assessment. Among the forty lakh, not included, a vast majority will turn out to be Indian citizens. Otherwise, why have they (the government) given so much importance to the ‘claims and objections’ procedure? If they were so confident of their draft, why have they allowed forty lakh people to file claims and objections? The NRC authorities have not even declared them as foreigners. Instead they are harping on the ‘claims and objections’ option. It is the NRC which has given this option, which means they themselves are not sure.
FP: What do you think led to so many people being left out of the list?
Gogoi: It is clear inefficiency. There was given enough time to come up with the second draft, in addition to the 5-year support. And they have had some 50-60 thousand government officers working round-the-clock to complete the document. I wouldn’t say it was deliberate, but maybe they were handling the whole affair in a casual fashion.
FP: But the exercise actually began when you were chief minister. What do you think went wrong?
Gogoi: Etu mor idea asil (This was my idea). The NRC is my brainchild. There was no such demand in the state, there was nothing even in the Assam Accord about the setting up of NRC. During the Congress regime, there were objections that multiple illegitimate people were given the right to vote, which is why the NRC was set up. To distinguish between genuine Indian citizens and foreigners who could illegitimately vote in our elections.
Even after five years, the draft which came out today (30 July, 2018) couldn’t declare foreigners as such, and point out those who couldn’t apply for a voter’s card. Even today after the second NRC draft, we don’t know how many of the forty lakh missing people cannot apply for a voter’s card in the future and will be treated as foreigners. The current government has not treated it with the seriousness it deserved. The point of NRC was to point out the foreigners and determine how many of them reside in Assam. The present NRC draft couldn’t locate any foreigners.
FP: What would you have done differently?
Gogoi: I would have gone into details and involved the local police and other local authorities. I’d have taken the voter’s list into consideration as well, and spoken with the Election Commission about the surveys they conduct before polls. This government didn’t do all this.
FP: Aren't the officers who released the draft today, the same people who worked under you when you started the NRC process?
Gogoi: As you know, these is a government department (which is looking after the NRC) and not some constitutional authority. Officers go by what their masters say — and that, everybody knows. The masters are the chief ministers or the government of the day. I don’t think the BJP government is doing justice to the people.
FP: How should the government deal with those whose names are missing from the list today?
Gogoi: Government should provide legal help to all of them, to all genuine Indian citizens. Because otherwise, these are all poor people who will have to spend their own money and run from pillar to post to procure documents just to prove their Indian citizenship. Then comes the feeling of insecurity — they will live in tension until the final list is out. So, the government should come forward and extend help.
Updated Date: Jul 30, 2018 13:51 PM