Final NRC list published in Assam: As Sarbananda Sonowal tries to quell panic, document draws criticism across political lines

  • The final and conclusive draft of the long-awaited and contentious Assam NRC was published on Saturday

  • Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal released a statement asking 'the excluded persons should not be worried'

  • Senior BJP leader in Assam and Cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said many undeserving names were included because of 'manipulation of legacy data'

The final and conclusive draft of the long-awaited and contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC), which set out to identify bonafide Indian citizens in Assam through a Supreme Court-monitored process, was published on Saturday amid tight security arrangements.

The office of the NRC state coordinator in Guwahati released a statement confirming that out of the 3,30,27,661 applicants, a total of 3,11,21,004 have been included in the citizenship registry, which leaves out over 19 lakh people from the final list.

Assam Police said that no disruptions in the law and order situation were reported through the day, including at the NRC Seva Kendras where people flocked to verify their inclusion in the document. “The day has passed by rather peacefully and nothing untoward has been reported thus far. Security forces remain deployed in sensitive areas across the state and we are expecting no disruption in public order,” Director General of Police Kuladhar Saikia told Firstpost.

Although there is no political or legal consensus on the path ahead for the 19 lakh people who do not find their names in the NRC list, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal released a statement in the late hours of Friday to insist that there is no cause for alarm. "There is no need to panic. We will provide legal assistance to those who need it," he said.

"After the publication of the list, the excluded persons should not be worried. In this regard, the union home ministry has notified that those excluded will get ample opportunities at the Foreigner’s Tribunals. The time limit to appeal has been increased from 60 to 120 days. As long as an appeal is there, no one will be treated as a foreigner, as the authority to declare a person foreigner lies only with the Foreigner’s Tribunal," Sonowal said.

However, the publication on Saturday was unanimously greeted with sharp criticism across party lines. Senior BJP leader in Assam and Cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted that the names of many Indian citizens who migrated from Bangladesh as refugees before 1971 have not been included in the NRC. And on the other hand, he said, many undeserving names were included because of “manipulation of legacy data”. Sarma continued to demand a partial re-verification of the NRC data.

BJP national spokesperson Nalin Kohli refused to comment on the numbers in the document published today, but said that the ills of illegal immigration should not be forgotten. “As it stands today, the NRC has been published. For those who are left out, there is a due legal process being set in place, which includes the enhancement of the 60-day appeal period to 120 days and an increase in the number of foreigner’s tribunals,” he said.

“But at the core of the issue, one must bear in mind that illegal immigration in Assam and other parts of the North East brought about dramatic social, economic, cultural changes on account of a drastic change in the demography. So, the issue of identification of illegal immigrants is a real and cogent one,” Kohli told Firstpost.

Three-time Assam chief minister and Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, however, thinks the BJP has “no moral right” to criticise the NRC process. “It is all their (BJP’s) doing. They are in power both in the Centre and the state, and yet they could not do anything to ensure a free and fair NRC,” Gogoi said.

When reminded that the NRC process was conducted under the Supreme Court’s scrutiny, Gogoi told Firstpost, “It may be Supreme Court-monitored, but the officers are government officers. The Registrar General of India, who published the list, works under the central government, and the lower-ranked officers work under the state government. If they (BJP) wished, they could have given us an error-free list, but they are responsible for the mess today. They have exposed themselves.”

BJP’s ally in the state government Asom Gana Parishad also expressed concern at the way the NRC process culminated. “The AGP is not satisfied at all about the number of exclusions. The figure of 19,06,657 exclusions in the final NRC is far too low and we cannot accept that,” party chief and Cabinet minister Atul Bora said.

 Final NRC list published in Assam: As Sarbananda Sonowal tries to quell panic, document draws criticism across political lines

File image of AGP leader Atul Bora. Image courtesy: Twitter/@ATULBORA2

Noting that various ministers in the past, including chief ministers, had put the number of illegal immigrants anywhere between 30 and 50 lakh, Bora said that the people of Assam, who had hoped for a fair NRC, will now feel cheated and threatened in their own state if these numbers are not revised. “The road ahead to remedy this situation will be decided upon in the coming months, but for now we would like to place on record our reservations with the way the process was conducted,” he added.

The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), prominent and vocal throughout the state’s quest to check illegal immigration, also expressed dismay. “The exclusion numbers put out today are not even near the already-declared figures put out by the central and state governments. AASU is not running after the number, but we had expected more people to be excluded. And because of that, we are unhappy with the publication today and believe the NRC is not error-free or even complete,” former AASU chief and current advisor to the group Samujjal Bhattacharya said.

Speaking to Firstpost on Saturday, Bhattacharya placed the blame on the Centre and the Assam government. “The Supreme Court had given ample scope and opportunity to the central and state governments to prepare an error-free NRC, but multiple successive governments have failed miserably. And because of their failure in ensuring an effective NRC, especially by frequently transferring officers and by not consistently referring immigrants to Foreigner’s Tribunals, we find ourselves in this situation today,” he said.

However, the AASU, he said, supports the endeavour that the NRC represents. “It has been 34 years since the signing of the Assam Accord, which had committed to detect, delete (names of) and deport illegal foreigners, to seal the international border, and to grant constitutional safeguards to the people of Assam. But no political party, either in Delhi or in Dispur, has attempted to deliver on those commitments all these years. At least now, a process has been adopted and supervised by the Supreme Court to weed out illegal immigrants, and for that we are grateful and will remain cooperative,” he said.

According to Bhattacharya, the deportation of over 19 lakh or more people must be politically feasible. “It is a question of threat to the identity of the indigenous people of Assam. In 1985, it was mutually decided among all stakeholders that 1971 will be the cut-off date to deport illegal foreigners. Now in 2019, if the government says that cannot be done and that we must accept all immigrants, we will be second class citizens, swamped by the illegal foreigners. It cannot be — Assam is a small state and cannot take the load beyond 1971,” he said.

Another organisation in the state Assam Public Works (APW), which was the original petitioner in the Supreme Court which led to the NRC updation, called Saturday’s document "flawed and error-ridden”. "What was the big hurry in publishing this document? The final NRC has made it clear that the issue of illegal immigration will never be resolved in Assam. If this NRC had been completed flawlessly, it would have gone down as a golden chapter in the state’s history," APW chief Aabhijeet Sharma said.

Sarma also cast doubts on the software used by the government officials for compiling data, and alleged manipulation in the numbers. He pledged to take the matter up in the Supreme Court once again, and also to speak with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind in this regard.

Following the 120-day appeal period that begins after Saturday's publication of the final NRC list, the focus is likely to shift to the Foreigner’s Tribunals, which have the legal authority to term those excluded from the list Indian citizens or otherwise.

Updated Date: Sep 01, 2019 09:52:36 IST