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Assam on alert ahead of publication of NRC; CM asks people not to panic

The NRC, unique to Assam, was first published in 1951, and the exercise is being monitored by the Supreme Court

Security personnel patrol on a road in Kachari Para, in Hojai district of Assam, ahead of the publication of the final draft of the NRC on Friday	Photo: Reuters
Security personnel patrol on a road in Kachari Para, in Hojai district of Assam, ahead of the publication of the final draft of the NRC on Friday Photo: Reuters

Nabarun Guha shuffles uneasily in his chair, signs of worry writ large on his face.

The journalist has visited the NRC Sewa Kendra (NSK) twice for hearing after his name did not appear in the interim and final draft, and is uncertain whether he will be able to make it to the final Register of Citizens when it is published on Saturday.

Guha is a grandson of renowned historian, economist and poet of Assam Amalendu Guha and his family has lived in upscale Ulubari locality of Guwahati since 1930. All in the family but Nabarun figure in the draft NRC.

"My parents have passed away, so the question of inclusion of their names does not arise. My father's name was in the electoral rolls of 1966 and 1970. I used his legacy codes and showed my linkage to him through my voter ID card. Still my name was not included," Guha said.

"It really baffles me. I don't know whether my name will be finally included or not. If a mistake can happen twice, it can happen for a third time as well," Guha told PTI, his furrowed forehead betraying the anxiety.

Guha is not alone. Lakhs of households across Assam are on edge a day before the publication of the hugely contentious NRC, which will determine bonafide Indian citizens as well identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
 

National Register of Citizens in numbers
 
Mar 24, 1971, is the cut-off date for making legitimate claim to Indian citizenship
 
1951: NRC, unique to Assam, first published
2013: SC ordered updating the NRC
2015: Updating exercise began in February
2017: Part publication of draft NRC on Dec 31
2018: Complete draft published on July 30. Draft included names of 29 mn people out of the 33 mn applicants
2019: Additional draft exclusion list published on June 26 consisting of 102,462 persons, taking the number of those left out to 4,110,169 in the complete draft

Monowara Begum, 45, a domestic help, is waiting for the NRC on a wing and a prayer.

Though she and her husband Lal Bahadur Ali figured in the draft NRC, the names of all her four children--Laili, Anna, Monirul and Sahidul were missing.

"I am so worried that I cannot sleep at night. I just don't know what will happen if their names are not there in the final list," she said despairingly.

When reminded of the government's assurance that nobody whose name does not appear in the list will be detained and that they can appeal before a foreigners tribunal, a sob tore at her throat.

"We have already spent our hard earned money for attending hearings. If we have to go to tribunals now, we will have to sell our land and home," she said.

Ganesh Rai of Solmari Kalyanpur village in Goalpara district belongs to the indigenous ethnic Rajbangshi community but apprehends he would fail to make it to the final NRC as he has been declared a (doubtful) D-Voter.

He had voted in the 2016 assembly elections and never received any notice about his changed status, which was revealed to him during an inquiry at a NSK.

Many Bodos and tea tribe people in Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD) are not overly worried. They assert they are indigenous people of Assam and nobody can uproot them from their land.

"We are the sons of the soil. If we are not included in the NRC, then who will be?" is the comman refrain among the ethnic communities here.

Amid criticism from political parties over alleged faulty inclusions and exclusions, the NRC will be in public domain on Saturday, and state authorities have clamped prohibitory orders in vulnerable areas, including in Guwahati, under section 144 CrPC to enforce public order.

This has been done to ensure the normal functioning of offices, movement of public and traffic flow, officials said.

Section 144 Cr PC prohibits assembly of more than five persons, any agitation, demonstration or procession inciting communal violence, carrying of firearms, ammunition, explosive substances or weapons in public places or vehicles, as well as use of loud speakers.

Ahead of the publication of final NRC, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Friday asked people not to panic and said the state government will take all possible steps to help genuine Indians prove their citizenship and provide legal assistance.

"No one should be worried. No one should panic. Government is here to take care of everyone. Even those who will be excluded from final list will get enough opportunity to prove their Indian citizenship," he told PTI in an interview.

Assam has seen a huge influx from other places, particularly Bangladesh, since the early 20th century. It did not stop even after Independence, with a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, both Hindus and Muslims, settling there.

Identification, detention and deportation of such immigrants was a major demand over which the All Assam Students Union (AASU) launched a 6-year movement which ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.

Though the Supreme Court had ordered updating the NRC in 2013 to identify bonafide citizens and weed out illegal immigrants, the actual exercise began in February 2015.

The part publication of draft NRC was done on the midnight of December 31, 2017, and the complete draft was published on July 30, 2018. A total of 2,89,83,677 people out of 3,29,91,384 applicants were found eligible for inclusion in the register.

On June 26, 2019, the NRC authority published an additional draft exclusion list consisting of 1,02,462 persons, taking the number of those left out to 41,10,169 in the complete draft.

The NRC, unique to Assam, was first published in 1951, and the exercise is being monitored by the Supreme Court. March 24, 1971, is the cut-off date for making legitimate claim to Indian citizenship.

The NRC and its coordinator Prateek Hajela, an IAS officer, has received both bouquets and brickbats for the exercise.

Both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress have repeatedly voiced concern over "faulty" inclusions and exclusions in the register.

BJP state president Ranjit Dass said Hajela was preparing the NRC "unilaterally or in consultation with just 2-3 organisations". "In such a situation, it is difficult for Assam to come up with an error-free NRC," he said.

Ripun Bora, the state Congress chief, however, accused the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state of not being sincere about protecting the interests of genuine Indian citizens.

Opposition All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has also accused the state government of "plotting to drop" the names of lakhs of genuine Muslim citizens from the NRC.

The AASU, however, asserted it has "full faith" in the Supreme Court-monitored exercise.

"We have full faith as the updating exercise has been done under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The NRC will be the legal document of indigenous people of the state protecting their Indian citizenship. Stands are being taken according to Hindu or Muslim interests of different sections," AASU president Dipankar Kumar Nath said.

The AASU has persistently favoured a religion-neutral approach to identifying and deporting illegal immigrants.

However, a communal element was introduced when the Hindu right organisations began accusing the state's successive Congress governments of patronising illegal settlers for vote bank politics. The Congress also hit back, accusing the BJP government of being "soft" on illegal Hindu immigrants.