Another foolish, divisive ploy

Another foolish, divisive ploy

People wait to check their names on the draft list at the National Register of Citizens (NRC) centre at a village in Nagaon district in Assam on July 30, 2018. REUTERS File Photo

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rhetorical declaration that “illegal immigrants and intruders living even on an inch of the Indian soil would be identified and deported’’ is cause for serious concern, because the theme of migration can soon become a new political weapon to create more strife and divisions in society. He told Parliament that the process of preparing a National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is now underway in Assam, will be extended to other states. As president of the BJP, Shah had called illegal immigrants “termites’’ to be thrown into the Bay of Bengal, and the party’s election manifesto had proposed implementation of the NRC in all states. President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to Parliament last month had presented the plan as State policy. 

The preparation of an NRC is extremely difficult and riddled with practical problems. The exercise going on in Assam is on the basis of a provision in the Assam Accord of 1985 to identify and deport post-1971 migrants, mostly Bangladeshis. The Supreme Court-mandated process, which led to the publication of a draft NRC last year, saw 40 lakh people left out of the register. While the deadline for completion of the process is July 31, the Centre and the Assam government have sought an extension in order to conduct a sample re-verification process which will ensure that no illegal migrant would remain on the list. The misery and stress caused by the NRC exercise is already clear and known. People whose families have lived in the state for generations have been left out, members of the same family find themselves in and out of the list and people from outside the state have been left out as aliens. The problems presented by an NRC are immense in a country where identity records are difficult to come by. Expanding it to the whole nation would be disastrous. In Assam, there was a reference point, but in other states there is no such base. 

The idea behind the NRC should cause greater worry than the problems of implementation. It is based on the principle of exclusion and not inclusion, which should guide State policy in all fields. It may create a state of uncertainty and tension, and make aliens of even bona fide citizens, especially those belonging to the minority communities. There is every chance of the plan degenerating into an ultra-nationalist frenzy directed against “other’’ people, and those who are different. It can provide another potent issue directly affecting the lives of people, much more than the Babri Masjid campaign, with a bigger potential to disrupt society and victimise and discriminate against some sections of people.