Sep 17, 2019-Tuesday
Even as Assam struggles to come to terms with the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) - where 1.9 million residents have been excluded - various other states are now toying with the idea of replicating the process in their respective geographies. In the latest instance, on Sunday, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is in the middle of his campaign seeking re-election, said that he will implement the NRC in the state. Last week, Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das, pushed for an NRC in the state - claiming that “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh were eating into the benefits due to the legal Muslim residents of the state. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has also hinted that using Assam’s experience, his state can start the NRC process if necessary. This would, he added, aid “national security”.
It is not a coincidence that all three chief ministers are from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Party president Amit Shah himself, both during the election campaign and in recent weeks, has spoken of the need for a nation-wide NRC. The ideological impulses are not hard to discern. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has long believed that India has seen an influx of illegal immigrants, primarily Muslims. It has blamed other parties for turning a blind eye to this, and even enabling migration, to create “votebanks”, and argued that India stares at the prospect of demographic change. The BJP’s electoral motivation is also clear. The rhetoric of NRC deepens Hindu-Muslim polarisation, and helps consolidate the “Hindu vote” in regions with a substantial Muslim population, for instance West Bengal.
But it is time to step back and look at Assam and lessons from there. As this newspaper has argued, the NRC process extracted huge costs. It caused great humanitarian distress; it divided Assamese society and the political subtext became communal in nature; it can also lead to a possible rift with Bangladesh since the discourse is centred around immigrants from there; and it has caused uncertainty since there is no clarity on what happens to those excluded. Policy analyst Yamini Aiyar has also spoken of bureaucratic dysfunction, how the government does not have faith in its own documents, and the lack of state capacity to have a fair process of this scale. BJP itself is not satisfied with the outcome in Assam because the NRC process overturned its own assumptions. Not as many Muslims as it thought were excluded; and more Hindus than it assumed were left out. Others have pointed to exclusion of genuine citizens, irrespective of religion. All of it means that while citizens have the first right over India, replicating the NRC nationally is not a solution to illegal immigration.
First Published: Sep 16, 2019 21:32 IST