Stop fuelling NRC panic in Bengal

West Bengal is in the grip of a mass panic as people are scrambling to obtain identity documents which will help to prove their citizenship. Large queues are seen outside government offices in the past few days as people are demanding birth and death certificates, nativity data, property records and other legacy documents which they feel they might need if an exercise is launched in the state to create a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Office-goers, workers, housewives and others are thronging offices and the crowds have become unmanageable in many places. There are reports of people committing suicide out of scare and depression and for fear that they may not be able to obtain the documents. The panic situation has been triggered by reports that an NRC exercise may be launched in the state, and repeated denials by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have had no impact on the people.

The panic is a direct result of assertions made by BJP leaders at the state and central levels that West Bengal will soon have an NRC. The state has seen migration from the time of Partition and during and after the 1971 war, and many migrants are worried even when they have the documents. The BJP is posing a serious political and electoral challenge to the ruling Trinamool Congress and wants to oust it from power in the 2021 assembly elections. The NRC is a major weapon for the party to communalise and polarise the electorate, as it is seen to be directed against Muslims. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that those who are excluded from the NRC will be sent out of the country. Other leaders have made assurances that Hindus will not be affected. But the people are not taking any chances, and all communities and people from all states are straining to ensure that they will not be left out.

The Assam NRC exercise, held under the Supreme Court’s supervision, should hold a lesson for all. It left out about 19 lakh people and is full of errors, with many wrong inclusions and exclusions. No-one is happy about the outcome of the NRC. There is continuing anxiety among the people, and it is wrong to create worries and panic on a massive scale in another state. The BJP has proposed NRC exercises for some other states also. It should abandon this divisive and dangerous course and avoid creating tension among the people. There is no constitutional, political or practical value and need for an NRC in any part of the country, and it will not serve any national purpose. The panic in West Bengal should be put an early end to.

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