Shooting the messenger

Shooting the messenger

Representative image. (PTI photo)

The transfer of Prateek Hajela, the co-ordinator of the Assam National Citizenship Register (NRC) exercise, to Madhya Pradesh has attracted a range of responses, including surprise and criticism. The Supreme Court ordered the transfer without giving any explanation for it but with a general statement that no order is issued without a reason. It is significant, because the NRC exercise was conducted on the court’s orders and under its supervision, most notably of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi himself. The BJP and some groups in Assam have sharply criticised the transfer order and demanded that Hajela should not be relieved of his duties before he gives a full account of the Rs 1,600 crore spent on the exercise. Hajela is now persona non-grata for the party and others who have found the outcome of the NRC exercise unpalatable. The exercise has excluded about 19 lakh people, but its advocates had expected many more to be excluded.

It is the disappointment with the outcome of the NRC that is now being directed as disapproval of Hajela’s work and anger against him. This is like shooting the messenger. Hajela had conducted the exercise in accordance with the Supreme Court’s guidelines. He was in the good books of the BJP in the beginning, but it turned against him when the outcome turned out to be different from what it expected. This is wrong and unreasonable. There is no justification for blaming Hajela for the outcome. The exercise itself was flawed in the first place, and such mammoth work involving 3.5 crore people could only have produced imperfect results. It is likely that many people got excluded because they could not produce citizenship documents for genuine reasons, and some others may have got included for wrong reasons.

There were checks and safeguards in place to take care of these, and re-verification exercises were also conducted. If, after all these, mistakes crept in, the fault could only have been with the NRC process. The problem was not with the person, but with the idea and the process. The lessons from the NRC exercise should have been that the idea is wrong, and it could never be fairly and effectively implemented. The BJP and its leaders do not recognise this, and there are calls to extend it to other states.

Hajela had sought a transfer and the court agreed to it. There was a claim that he had faced security threats. The court has not specified the ground and only stated that the order is based on the “totality of facts’’. It, however, remains an unusual and extraordinary order because the court’s thinking behind it is not actually known.