When Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai last week said that the BJP government in the state was collecting information on immigrants and will move towards bringing out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on the line of Assam, he was simply seconding Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who had days before batted for NRC in West Bengal and Jharkhand.
Addressing a rally in Kolkata last Tuesday, Shah not only made a big push for NRC but also assured that “Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees will not be forced to leave India” as the Centre will pass Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to take care of the NRC fall out on them.
In an oblique manner, Shah said that NRC in West Bengal, when brought, will only push out Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants. This, he said, was a counter to the “lies” spread by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that lakhs of Hindus will have to leave West Bengal if the NRC was implemented.
Countering Mamata’s pitch that she will not allow NRC in West Bengal, Shah, who had in past called illegal immigrants as “termites” and asserted that India is “not a Dharamshala (tavern)”, has of late been vocal that not a single intruder will be allowed to live inside India even as he hit out at Mamata.
Shah’s remarks led to huge reactions. Notwithstanding the row, Shah, also BJP president, in an election rally in Jamtara in the poll-bound tribal state of Jharkhand, again batted for NRC across the nation.
He reminded, “it’s not a register of Assam’s residents. The name itself is National Register of Citizens, not National Register of Assam.” He also recalled to the audience during the programme that BJP had, in its election manifesto, promised to the people of India that the party government will bring NRC not only in Assam but across India.
Even in the third week of July, Shah had suggested in Rajya Sabha that the BJP-led government at the Centre was committed to introduce NRC across the country and deport all illegal immigrants from India.
“Currently, NRC is a part of the Assam Accord. The Centre — as per BJP election manifesto — is dedicated to wean out illegal immigrants from every inch of this country. We will make sure that all such immigrants are deported as per international law,” Shah had said in the Upper House.
And hence, in this backdrop, Bommai’s remarks that there is a talk in the process on the implementation of NRC across India and that Karnataka has already held two meetings on the issue needs to be taken seriously.
Assembly elections are not due in the near future in Karnataka (though by-polls will be held for 15 Assembly seats). Hence, Bommai’s remarks are an indication of BJP having firmly come to the view to seek NRC across the country. And hence, the tone of BJP is now not state-specific nor is it limited to those states where immediate elections are due.
There are demands by BJP leaders for NRC from Haryana and Maharashtra which go to polls on October 21, from and Jharkhand and Delhi, which may go to polls by year-end.
Similar demands are heard from Bihar which goes to polls in 2020, West Bengal where are elections are due in 2021, Uttar Pradesh (2022) and even Tripura where BJP had won state polls only last year decimating the Left Front ruling the state for 25 years. Assembly elections in Tripura are far off - in 2023.
The final NRC for Assam published on August 31 excluded 19 lakh people. It did lead to some disappointment in the BJP circles over why only a small number of people were out of NRC list and why the list included a number of Hindus as well. The BJP has, nevertheless, made it one of the key poll planks in all assembly going states.
The issue of NRC has quite a resonance in West Bengal, where the settling of migrants from Bangladesh has been happening for quite a few decades. The BJP which, riding on Hindutva plank in last Lok Sabha polls, won 18 Lok Sabha seats, is getting traction for its NRC campaign there, but elsewhere the response is tepid.
Nitish opposed to NRC
In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of JD(U) heading the NDA alliance government, has clearly disapproved of the idea being pushed by some BJP leaders.
However, at least three BJP chief ministers — M L Khattar (Haryana), Raghuvar Das (Jharkhand) and Yogi Adityanath (UP) — have made big noises about it. So has been the stand of Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari.
Riding on the illegal infiltration issue, the BJP formed the government in Assam in 2016, its first government in the North East. And there was no looking back since then. Demands of NRC were made from Meghalaya and Mizoram too.
In 2018, an alliance of BJP and People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) recorded a landslide victory in Tripura. In September this year, IPFT sought NRC in the whole country calling the foreigners’ problem a “national issue”.
BJP leaders feel the rising number of illegal immigrants could impact election results in several seats. Opposition parties, however, consider all this a game plan of BJP to play the Muslim card in every election at a time economy is in doldrums and the government has not much to show on the job front.
BJP’s counter is that it is not a new issue for them and that the party has been raising the issue of illegal immigration since the 1990s. BJP had also adopted a formal resolution regarding NRC before the 1996 Lok Sabha polls.