India’s Assam on the edge over ‘polarizing’ National Record of Citizens

Activists of All Assam Students' Union, along with 28 other organizations walk during a protest rally against India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill in Gauhati, June 29, 2018. (AP)

Muslims in India’s Assam state, bordering Bangladesh, are in a state of panic ahead of the publication of the final draft of a National Record of Citizens (NRC), or verified registry of Indian nationals in the violence-prone province, on Monday.

Tens of thousands of Assam’s Muslims fear that their names would be excluded from the NRC directory reducing them to stateless persons or illegal aliens who would be disenfranchised and thrown into prison.

Their fears have been stoked by the recent submission of Prateek Hajela, Coordinator NRC belonging to he Indian Administrative Service (IAS), before the Supreme Court that around 1,50,000 persons are likely to fail Assam’s lineage-based citizenship test.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) federal government and the BJP government in Assam are issuing last moment assurances to calm them down but frightened minorities are bracing for the worst because of the BJP’s record of targeting them and Assam’s history of anti-Muslim pogroms.

Assam is the only Indian state to conduct a citizenship verification exercise on such a massive scale. And no other state has a full-fledged Border Police to sniff out foreigners. Assam’s obsession with immigrants has no parallels in the whole country.

‘Illegal immigrants’

Hindu nationalists have long campaigned that the majority of Muslims of Bengali descent in Assam are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who must be expelled at any cost. This has resulted in the periodic massacres of immigrants but the killers have invariably gone scot-free.

After July 30, fresh demands for deporting those who fail the NRC test to Bangladesh, will inevitably cast a shadow on India-Bangladesh bilateral relations which are presently in an excellent state. Dhaka has steadfastly maintained that there is no migration to India.

Branding the NRC exercise as “polarizing”, civil rights activists say its sole purpose is to harass and intimidate Muslims by branding them Bangladeshis. Paradoxically, Hindu Bangladeshis are welcome – India’s Citizenship Act is being amended to give them Indian nationality making a mockery of the BJP’s policy on illegal immigrants.

Significantly, Asom Gano Parishad (AGP), the BJP’s coalition partner in Assam, is opposing the Citizenship Act Amendment Bill, insisting that all proven illegal immigrants – whether Muslims or Hindus – must be deported.

AGP is against gifting citizenship to Hindu immigrants to shield them from NRC provisions.

Nation-wide movement

According to reports, the BJP is gearing up to demand that those excluded from NRC must be immediately deported to Bangladesh. The BJP will not confine its movement to Assam. It will make it a nationwide movement in the run-up to the state assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, and the general elections of 2019.

Such a movement will be in tune with BJP’s anti-Muslim ideology. BJP regards Bangladeshis as illegal immigrants and infiltrators who are increasing the population of Muslims in India to the overall detriment of Hindus which the BJP claims to represent.

During the 2014 election campaign, would-be PM Modi had openly declared that Bangladeshi Muslims living illegally in India posed a threat to India’s security and integrity.

He announced that if the BJP won, Bangladeshi immigrants who worshipped goddess Durga would be spared but the rest would be packed off.

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Last Update: 05:12 KSA 08:12 - GMT 05:12
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