The six-year long Assam movement started when the opposition raised objections on the status of more than 46,000 people on the electoral rolls in the 1979 byelection in the Mangaldoi constituency, which was necessitated following the death of Janata Dal MP Hiralal Patowary. The opposition claimed that the unusual increase in the number of voters was owing to the inclusion of a large number illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Abhijeet Sharma, President of Assam Public Works (APW), on May 25, 2009, filed a petition in the Supreme Court, requesting regularisation of all the people from East Pakistan who were accepted as Indians through the Assam Accord, scrapping the voters’ list of 2006 as 4.1 million illegal voters were registered in it, and that a new voters’ list be prepared where only Indians can vote for an Indian.
The leaders of the Assam agitation claimed during the agitation period (1979-85) that the number of illegal immigrants who infiltrated from Bangladesh would be around 4 million, which was almost one-fourth of the then population of the State. On April 10, 1992, Hiteswar Saikia, then Chief Minister of Assam, stated that there were 3 million Bangladeshi illegal migrants in Assam but later he said there were no illegal migrants in the State.
Indrajit Gupta, then Home Minister India, stated in Parliament on May 6, 1997, that there were 10 million illegal migrants in India. Quoting a Home Ministry/Intelligence Bureau source, the August 10, 1998, issue of India Today provided a state-wise breakdown of these illegal migrants — West Bengal – 5.4 million, Assam – 4 million, Tripura – 8 million, Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan – 0.5 million each and Delhi 0.3 million, totaling to 10.83 million.
The Home Ministry/Intelligence Bureau did not take into account that the cut-off year for determining illegal immigrants from the neighbouring country was 1971 for Assam and 1950 for the rest of the country.
It seems from the figures that these are not based on any methodology and comprehensive calculations. None have explained how they have arrived at their figures of illegal immigrants in Assam or elsewhere in the country. Different political parties forwarded different figures in different times for their political exigencies.
During his tenure as Governor of Assam, Lt Gen SK Sinha had submitted a report to the Centre in the late 90s — drawing on census reports in Bangladesh — estimating a decrease in Hindu population from 1971 to 1991 to be not less than 7.5 million. If it is so, we may guess that at least 2-3 million Hindus had entered Assam of these 7.5 million. Though it is very difficult to find out the magnitude of the problem amid this labyrinth of numbers, a fear psychosis has been created in the State through these 38 years.
The conscientious people of Assam from across the religious spectrum welcomed the decision of the government led by Dr Manmohan Singh in 2013 to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) under the observation of the apex court, as they hoped that the NRC would break the maze and reveal whether the problem of foreign nationals in the State is a myth that needs a real remedy.
However, the final draft of the NRC published on July 30 has frustrated those who want a real solution to the vexed problem. It seems that there are lots of anomalies in the final draft of the NRC. Non-inclusion of names of one or more members of the same family, members of the Assembly, Army officials, descendants of former President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, millions of married women, inclusion of names of those who were declared illegal immigrants by the foreigners’ Tribunals… the anomalies go on.
The names of 4 million people have been dropped from the final draft of NRC. If the government did not have adequate machinery and workforce, it could have taken more time. What was the hurry? The pressure from the court may be one of the factors. If Assam has waited for the last 38 years to get a solution, it could have waited for another year. A possible reason for the speed may be the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.
Politics is Problem
The ruckus raised by political parties is absolutely opportunistic. The BJP, TMC, BJD and the Congress want to get political mileage. TMC leader and the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has blown up the issue only to evoke Bengali sentiments, which she badly needs to beat the growing influence of the BJP in West Bengal.
The ruling party at the Centre which has brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to grant citizenship to the Hindus from certain neighbouring countries, taking advantage of the exclusion of 4 million people from the final draft of NRC further tried to polarised society on religious lines to concentrate Hindu support.
The people of Assam are eagerly waiting to get an accurate final NRC so that the foreigners’ issue in the State is resolved for good. But a hurried publication of the list will do more harm rather than providing a solution.
Lt Gen SK Sinha in his report had said: “Further, our capability to identify and deport over ten million such people is questionable. In these circumstances, deportation of these illegal migrants is not now a practical proposition.” The enormity of the anomalies in the final draft of the NRC perhaps reflects his apprehensions.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)