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Thursday, February 22, 2024

NRC: A much-needed exercise, but extremely flawed implementation in Assam

The raging debate in recent times, after the abrogation of Article 370, is NRC. A term that is being casually thrown around with all sorts of claims, counter-claims, opinions and views.

NRC or National Register of Citizens, as the name suggests, is a record of all legal citizens of Bharat. This record has to be maintained by the Bharatiya government so that all legitimate citizens are identified and information related to their citizenship validated. This would also help the government to know about the illegal immigrants present in the country. 

The only time this register was prepared was immediately after the first census conducted in 1951 and unfortunately it has never been updated since then. Until recently, that is, when it was mandated to do so by the Supreme Court (SC) in the state of Assam.

Background & history

The struggles against illegal immigrants (who were mostly Bangladeshis) began way back in the late 70s when a lot of ‘D’ voters meaning doubtful voters were found in the electoral rolls. After struggling for almost 6 years the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) were successful in getting the central government to sign the ‘Assam Accord’. The signatories to this Accord were AASU, AAGSP and Central and Assam state governments. One of the promises made in the Accord was the detection of foreigners and deleting the names of foreigners so detected from the electoral rolls. In other words, it meant updating the NRC. 

Although the promise was made way back in 1985, the process of updating the NRC did not begin until Aabhijeet Sharma of Assam Public Works, an NGO approached the Supreme Court and the latter set the wheels in motion. It is worth mentioning here that the formal decision to update the NRC in keeping with the Assam Accord was taken by the centre in 1999 and the promise was reiterated by the Manmohan Singh government in May 2005. 

Credit is due to Banti and Pradip Kumar Bhuyan, who had been working relentlessly since 2006 to have the names of illegal immigrants removed from the electoral rolls. After being approached by the couple, Assam Public Works took the initiative to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court. The actual work of updating the NRC, however, did not begin until February 2015 (although the Supreme Court order was passed in December 2013) and was completed in 2018. The final list was published on 4th September 2019 and those who have been excluded have been given a 120 days window to appeal with Foreigners Tribunals against their exclusion.

Hindu Vs Muslim debate

No doubt it was a massive exercise involving a lot of man power and other resources but in the end, was it a fruitful one? Although, only time will tell how fruitful it was; if initial reactions are anything to go by then we can safely assume that this entire exercise seems to have missed the main point of contention; i.e. identifying ‘illegal immigrants’. 

Assam Public Works, the NGO behind this massive exercise, has expressed its displeasure with the entire process and believes that the software was faulty. Several allegations have cropped up of foreigners finding place in the NRC and natives being left out. 

When the entire process was started, leaders like Owaisi and Mamata Banerjee went to town about Muslims being targeted under the garb of illegal immigrants. They have now begun to sing a new tune. That should come as no surprise because of the 1.9 million people who have been left out of the final draft, majority are said to be Hindus: Bengalis, Dimasas, Koch, Rajbanghsis and other indigenous people. Their fate is now in the hands of Foreigners Tribunals.

Seculars who sought to make this into a Hindu Vs Muslim debate and make it seem as if minorities were being targeted and threatened under ‘Modi regime’ have gone completely silent because the end result has been the exact opposite of what they were peddling. None of them have come forward to shed even a tear for the lakhs of Hindus who have been left stranded.

As Assam’s finance minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma put it “the main problem with the NRC process is not about genuine people being left out, as there will be adequate opportunity for corrections, but fake citizens included in the register” (in an interview to Times of India).


The NRC in Assam should have been a pilot project for the detection and possible deportation of illegal immigrants. Its success would prompt the Centre to extend the updation process to the other border states in the first phase, and then to the rest of the country. But it isn’t as simple as it seems.

It requires massive international diplomacy efforts to convince Bangladesh to take back those who have illegally entered Bharat from there. But before that, these illegal immigrants need to be identified, and that is easier said than done. One of the major hurdles is that these illegal immigrants have secured documents such as ration and AADHAR cards; all thanks to secularism and vote banks politics of Congress & their allies. Natives and Hindu, Sikh and other refugees who fled to Bharat post partition and again during & after the creation of Bangladesh, have not bothered much with paperwork as they lack the illegal ecosystem provided by fundamentalist Muslim organisations and political parties like AIUDF. 

In addition to all this, it is going to be very difficult to prove that someone who has been here since 2 to 3 generations is actually an illegal entrant. Let us take the example of a Rohingya who has come to Bharat today. Today, it would be easier to prove that he/she is an illegal immigrant, but if we fail to do so then may be after a couple of generations he/she would have ‘acquired documents’ to claim citizenship. That is exactly what is happening with illegal Bangladeshis who have been trickling in since partition.

As of today, the fate of close to 2 million people lies with the Foreigners Tribunals. As for minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have been facing the worst form of persecution, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, that needs to be introduced in Parliament, holds out hope and relief.

In the coming days we would be taking a look at the Assam Accord, Citizenship Amendment Bill, the problem of illegal immigration and need for NRC not just in the border states but throughout the country, especially in the big cities. 

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