New Delhi: Hours after the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was published, opposition parties appealed to the Union government to ensure that legitimate Indian citizens be given enough window to appeal against their wrongful exclusion.
Saturday morning, the revised NRC was published by the Registrar General of India (RGI). More than 19.06 lakh people were excluded from the list, all of whom now risk losing their rights in India. Most parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have expressed doubts over the sanctity of the process. They have alleged that many Indian citizens do not figure in the list.
CPI(M)’s detailed response
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has said that all such citizens should be included and the government should initiate a transparent process to ensure that.
The politburo, the highest body of the party, said, “First, the government should spell out what the status and rights of those who have been excluded will be. Till their appeals are heard and the process is completed, the status quo should be maintained with regard to their existing rights and facilities. In Assam, an all-party meeting must be convened to discuss the matter.”
While appealing to the government to not act against the excluded in haste, it also raised questions on the validity of the designated foreigners tribunals that are meant to hear such appeals. “The Foreigners Tribunal is not a judicial body and functions more like an executive one,” the party said in a statement.
The foreigners tribunals will hear the pleas of the excluded, who can appeal within 120 days now. However, the tribunals also have the freedom to accept or reject the appeals after considering their merit.
The Left party is of the opinion that the current procedure is inadequate to address the concerns of the excluded people and leaves too much to the discretion of the tribunals’ personnel.
Therefore, it has demanded that “the right of appeal” be “processed through a judicial mechanism.”
Citing that most parties agree that the NRC process may have had discrepancies, the party also urged that the system of sending those the tribunal declares as “foreigners” to detention camps should be stopped, as “it is violative of basic human rights.”
“The CPI(M) will extend all necessary help, through various forums, to assist the excluded people in getting legal help for justice,” the politburo said.
It added that the updating of the NRC in Assam had specific historical and political backdrop, and the BJP-led Union government should stop all efforts to introduce such a process in the rest of India. Multiple leaders of the BJP, including union home minister Amit Shah, have said in their speeches that the government intends to start a NRC process in other states too.
The CPI(M) said, “The BJP government at the Centre intends to use this process for their divisive communal agenda for sharpening polarisation.”
Congress faults process
Similarly, Assam Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi also said that updating the NRC in Assam was an example of “careless implementation” of law.
“Every section of Assam is unhappy with the status of NRC. Even BJP ministers are complaining,” he said, adding that even “genuine India citizens will have to unnecessarily face the courts.”
Senior party leader from Meghalaya Mukul Sangma and Congress Parliamentary Party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, while saying that their party supports the updation of the NRC in Assam, pointed out that the process was Assam-specific only.
“The stand of our party is very clear that the rights of the real citizen should be safeguarded,” said Sangma.
— Congress (@INCIndia) August 31, 2019
“Genuine citizens of the country must be protected and included in the NRC,” said Chowdhury.
Over the last few months, saffron party leaders have advocated that a NRC-like process to update the list of Indian citizens should be carried out to drive out illegal immigrants, whom Amit Shah had famously called “ghuspetiyas”. However, days before the final list was published, the BJP changed tack and began to criticise the process in Assam.
Assam’s high-profile BJP leaders, including one of the biggest votaries of updating NRC in Assam till a few months ago, Himanta Biswa Sarma said that his party doesn’t “hope (for) anything (to emerge) from the NRC.”
Criticising the way the updating process was conducted by the RGI, he said, “We had given up hope the day the draft list of the NRC excluded only 6% of applicants in districts like Dhubri and South Salmara and 16% in Karbi Anglong district, which has the maximum number of indigenous people. The NRC will not solve our foreigner problem and the Centre and Assam government are mulling new measures to address the issue.”
“Our only concern now is to maintain law and order in the state after the publication of the NRC list. I want to appeal to people of all religion not to panic even after their names are dropped from the NRC. All those excluded can move the foreigner tribunals and challenge their exclusion within 120 days,” Sarma said, adding that many names of illegal immigrants may have actually been included in the final list because of a faulty process and the manipulation of data.
He also took to Twitter to express his reservations.
Names of many Indian citizens who migrated from Bangladesh as refugees prior to 1971 have not been included in the NRC because authorities refused to accept refugee certificates. Many names got included because of manipulation of legacy data as alleged by many 1/2
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) August 31, 2019
I reiterate that as requested by Central and State governments at least 20% reverification (bordering districts) and 10% re-verification(remaining districts) should be allowed by Honble Apex court for a correct and fair NRC. 2/2
— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) August 31, 2019
Speaking to NDTV, BJP MLA from Assam, Silditya Dev, expressed worry that a among the 19.06 lakh excluded people, a majority could be Hindus. This, the BJP had not expected, as most of them had targeted Muslims while campaigning against illegal immigration.
Dev alleged that the NRC was part of a “conspiracy to keep Hindus out and help Muslims”. He said that the NRC software was “bugged” and the process of preparing the citizen’s list was steeped in corruption.
“People wanted error-free NRC for protection of right but it didn’t happen… It seems a conspiracy to keep the Hindus out and give legitimacy to Muslim infiltrators,” Dev said.