Those who are excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam can vote in the 2021 Assam Assembly election as the government didn’t send them rejection slips. Thus, for the time being, they are free from the dreaded “doubtful voter” or “D-voter” tag. The non-issuance of NRC rejection slips in Assam has stirred hope among many non-Muslims—out of 1.9m excluded by the NRC on August 31st 2019, 1.2m are estimated to be Bengali-speaking Hindus—that their citizenship may be restored, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has an obnoxious agenda behind the delay.
The NRC process, as mentioned in paragraph 7 of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, mandates that the local registrar shall, after disposal of claims and objections under subparagraph (3) of paragraph 6, prepare and publish a supplementary list for inclusion or deletion of names. Only thereafter the final NRC can be published and notified. Earlier, the Central Government increased the timeframe for appeal from 60 days to 120 days. The NRC in Assam is not notified by the government so far as the BJP is keen to exploit the agony of the Bengali-speaking Hindus in Assam and West Bengal to sweep the forthcoming assembly elections.
Initially, 400,000 people who didn’t apply to be included in the NRC were supposed to receive the NRC rejection slips. Their NRC rejection slips would carry the reason as “non-submission of requisite papers” as per government sources quoted by The Economic Times. Initially, it was planned from March 20th 2020 onwards. However, considering the Coronavirus pandemic, the exercise was delayed and was expected to start in June 2020. But the government delayed it further. Later, it was expected to start by September 2020, after a year the final list was published. But then too it didn’t take place. In December 2020, the state’s Congress party raised doubts over the delay as the government began talking about re-verification of the 1.9m data of excluded people.
The Assam NRC considered the cut-off date for Indian citizenship as March 24th 1971, as per the Assam Accord, 1985. Though it was projected by the BJP as a drive to “weed away Muslim infiltrators”, the Assamese chauvinists have been mainly demanding the exclusion of Bengali-speaking Hindus from the electoral roll and their deportation to Bangladesh if they have arrived after the cut-off date. Thus, as the BJP projects itself as a party that supports the Bengali Hindus and needs the community’s support to sweep the 2021 West Bengal Assembly election as well, therefore, it’s not willing to take any decisive step with the NRC before the crucial elections.
Originally, the Assam Accord, 1985, mandated a “detect, detain and deport” exercise using the Foreigners Tribunals. The Supreme Court, which took up a case related to the “illegal migration” to Assam from Bangladesh, used the NRC provision under section 14(A) of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (CAA 2003)–which the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) passed in the Parliament in December 2003 and was enacted by the Congress party’s Dr Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in December 2004.
The non-issuance of NRC rejection slips isn’t caused by the BJP’s concern for the Bengali-speaking Hindus, but its electoral equation. Since a long time, the BJP has been luring the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh using the bait of citizenship. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019), it was expected that the law will provide citizenship to those non-Muslims who are excluded in the Assam NRC as well as the pan-India NRC, which will take place under the CAA 2003.
However, it was found that the CAA 2019 has no provisions for citizenship for the refugees or those excluded by the NRC, as it’s only for those who “have been exempted” in the 2015 and 2016 amendments to the Foreigners Rules, 1948, and Passport (Entry into India) Rules, 1950. This, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ testimony to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB 2016), will only benefit 31,313 registered refugees who have got long-term visas (LTVs) upon arrival to India from the Foreigners Regional Registration Offices (FRROs).
The Bangladeshi refugees, who mostly arrive without proper travel documents, seldom register at the FRROs. Only those from Afghanistan and Pakistan register at the FRROs for LTVs when they intend to not return to their countries. Now, within them, people from six notified communities who have got LTVs, will not be considered as “illegal migrants” as per the CAA 2003, which will allow them to apply for citizenship. The application, according to the MHA’s testimony at the JPC, is subject to scrutiny by internal intelligence agencies and the police.
This means, under the CAA 2019, which is the rechristened CAB 2016, none of the Bengali Hindus excluded in the Assam NRC will ever get citizenship. This is what Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal stated, albeit implicitly, to pacify Assamese chauvinism during anti-CAA 2019 protest movements. But still, the BJP has ample opportunity to use the law to lure the Bengali-speaking Hindus to vote for it, as its toady media and a section of bamboozled Opposition have presented the law as “anti-Muslim” legislation that’s compassionate towards the Hindu and other non-Muslim refugees.
Therefore, the BJP never published the Rules for the CAA 2019, to ensure that it can be dangled before the agonised Bengali-speaking refugees, especially the Namasudras—Bengali-speaking Dalits—and tribal masses, giving them a false sense of hope of rescue from the draconian NRC. The non-issuance of the NRC rejection slips will enable the 1.9m excluded people, whose citizenship is in limbo, to vote the BJP in a hope to get a reversal of the ordeal. Similarly, the BJP will lure the Bengali refugees, Namasudras, the tribal people, etc, in West Bengal with the false hope of shielding them from the NRC with a promise of citizenship. But they will be duped too. This is a reason Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been lying incessantly on the CAA 2019 and promising people citizenship after the assembly election.
The BJP knows that a majority of indigenous people will not vote for it in the 2021 Assam Assembly election. It knows that there will be anti-incumbency votes over the Modi regime’s disastrous decisions like demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax, CAA 2019 enactment, NRC threat and the lockdown-related state atrocities and inhumanities. Thus, the promise of citizenship through the CAA 2019 is its trump card to have the frightened masses vote for it. But a serious counter-propaganda in West Bengal against the CAA 2019 and its predecessor CAA 2003, demanding unconditional citizenship and the return to the “citizenship by birth” sphere, has politically-equipped the oppressed masses of Namasudras, the refugees, the tribal masses and the Muslims to unite against the NRC.
Now, by using the delay in sending the NRC rejection slips, the Modi regime and the BJP want these excluded people—the majority of them—to participate in the 2021 Assam and West Bengal assembly elections. Their votes are necessary for the last time in 2021 as the Modi regime plans to change the Constitution by gaining a majority in the upper house, Rajya Sabha, by 2022. In case, the BJP sweeps both Assam and West Bengal, then it will have no compulsions that will stop it from disenfranchising the 1.9m in Assam and millions more in West Bengal. It’s only the people’s collective movement for unconditional citizenship for all that can change the situation. It’s the issue of citizenship that can either pave way for the theocratic “Hindu Rashtra”, a Brahminical supremacist state, or can dig the grave of the Hindutva fascist camp altogether in these crucial frontlines.