Of Assam’s 14 MPs, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal and his brother Sirajuddin Ajmal did not figure in the first draft of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on December 31 last.
Also missing from the first draft containing 19 million names were at least 15 of Assam’s 126 MLAs. They included Badruddin Ajmal’s son Abdur Rahim Ajmal, who represents the AIUDF, perceived to be a pro-minority party, from the Jamunamukh constituency.
Off the list too were Boby Bhuyan Baruah, wife of separatist Paresh Baruah, who has been operating from neighbouring countries, including China, for three decades now, and their sons, Ankur and Akash. Baruah leads the United National Front of Asom-Independent.
The MPs and MLAs — including BJP’s Shiladitya Dev and Ashwini Rai Sarkar — and relatives of extremist leaders would rather wait for the final draft of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC to be out by the June 30 deadline. “The first list did not have my name despite my being an MLA for one term and an MP for two. The doors of the Supreme Court are open, in case the name does not show up,” the AIUDF chief said a few days ago.
The leaders are not worried. But the likes of Moinal Islam, a mason from near Chhaygaon, west of Guwahati, who has been at a loss to explain why his father adds ‘Sheikh’ to his name while he doesn’t, and Subhas Saha of western Assam’s Dhubri town, half of whose family were excluded from the first draft despite having lived there for almost a century, are worried by speculation that up to four million people — mostly Bengali Hindus and Muslims — would become stateless after June 30.
Misplaced fears: official
“These are misplaced fears. We cannot quantify at this moment, but the number of people who might get left out would be 50,000 at most. Even then, they will get an opportunity to prove their citizenship through claims and objections,” Prateek Hajela, State NRC Coordinator, told The Hindu .
As the deadline for the final draft nears, minority organisations have pointed out anomalies in the exercise that appears to be aimed at Bengali Hindus and Muslims.
“The NRC authorities are coming up with new rules, and officials on the ground are taking decisions that are different from what is on paper,” Azizur Rahman, convener of the Coordination Committee of Minority Organisations, Assam, said.
The committee represents 23 minority groups.
“Since the exercise is being monitored by the Supreme Court, no one can intervene. But the Assam government came out with new rules such as the one on May 2 making siblings of those marked foreigners ineligible for NRC updating. Such rules, if at all, should have been made before the exercise was undertaken. The complications are deliberate, aimed at harassing Bengali Hindus and Muslims,” Aminul Islam, AIDUF general secretary, said.
Court dismisses petition
On Friday, the Gauhati High Court dismissed a petition against the May 2 order on siblings of “declared foreigners”.
Dharmananda Deb of the Silchar-based Hindu Legal Cell said a slew of orders that had made the exercise for the final draft complicated were aimed at Bengali Hindus. “We were the main targets in 1979 when the D-voter (doubtful voter) issue cropped up. Almost 90% of D-voters and those in detention camps are Bengali Hindus,” he said.
“Bengali Hindus are likely to suffer this time too. Maybe, they will come up with D-NRC to keep harassing the common people,” Mr. Deb said. About 28% people in Assam are Bengali-speakers, a majority of them in Barak Valley where having the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed by Parliament before publication of the final NRC draft matters most. “If enacted after NRC, the Bill will have no meaning,” Mr. Deb said.
“The Bill is not acceptable because it will endanger the existence of the indigenous people, already burdened with waves of immigrants. It is against the secularism that the Constitution upholds and violates the provision of the 1985 Assam Accord that prescribes March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for illegal migrants,” Samujjal Bhattacharyya, advisor of All Assam Students’ Union, said.