Political battle heats up over Assam NRC; Amit Shah, Mamata weigh in

New Delhi: BJP National President Amit Shah addresses a press conference at the party headquarters, in New Delhi on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Photo: PTI
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah and West Bengal Chief Minister (CM) Mamata Banerjee emerged the most voluble voices for their respective causes on Tuesday as confusion prevailed over the eventual status of the 4.07 million Assam residents who did not find a mention in the second list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

If Shah accused Banerjee and rest of the Opposition of playing vote bank politics at the cost of national security, the West Bengal CM said the ruling party was indulging in divisive politics that could lead to a civil war and bloodbath.

As the Rajya Sabha debated the NRC issue after Congress and Trinamool Congress members created an uproar, Shah countered them by asking whether the Congress wanted to save the “illegal Bangladeshis”.

The Supreme Court (SC) said the publication of the complete draft NRC of Assam cannot be the basis of any coercive action against anyone since it is merely a draft. It also directed the Centre to formulate a standard operating procedure (SoP) to deal with claims and objections.

The Congress, Left parties and others were worried that efforts to keep their anti-Modi government narrative focused on agrarian distress, Rafale fighter jet deal, and atrocities on Dalits might get overwhelmed by the controversy over the NRC.

The Congress is exploring if other Opposition parties might hold a joint press conference on the Rafale issue. Activist groups and trade unions have planned a public rally in Delhi on August 9 on the issues of agrarian distress and dilution of a law relating to atrocities on Dalits.

The Congress, which continued to term it a humanitarian issue, was hopeful that the entire controversy could backfire on the BJP in the days to come since it was more a linguistic rather than a religious issue. Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma pointed out how not just Muslims, but people indigenous to Assam, people from Bihar, Bengali speaking people and those from other parts living for generations in Assam were affected by the NRC.

The second and final draft of the NRC, which is a list of the state’s citizens, was published on Monday with over 28.9 million names out of 32.9 million applicants in Assam. Names of around 4.07 million applicants did not figure in the document.

Banerjee, who later in the evening met Home Minister Rajnath Singh, said at an event that the BJP’s politics of intolerance was unacceptable and a united Opposition would defeat the ruling party in 2019. She even made a distinction between BJP’s various leaders. “I am not saying all are bad. Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh are good people. Potato and potato chips cannot be equal,” she said. Banerjee also confirmed that she would be meeting United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday.

Shah held a press conference after the Opposition disrupted his speech in the Rajya Sabha. Shah said no Indian should be worried about the NRC, asserting that names of genuine citizens will not be deleted. The BJP hopes to take the issue across the country to tell the people that the Opposition was supporting infiltrators.

While there was no clarity from the Centre or the state about the eventual fate of those who do not find their names in the NRC, the SC asked the Centre that it should place the SoP before it by August 16. The SC asked the Centre to be fair and give reasonable opportunity to contest exclusion. Claims and objections with regard to inclusion and exclusion in the NRC could be filed from August 30 to September 28.

The Rajya Sabha adjourned its day’s business to take up a discussion on the subject but was adjourned for the day when the Congress members protested the BJP chief’s speech. In his speech, Shah blamed the Rajiv Gandhi government for lacking the courage to implement the NRC.

At the press conference, Shah demanded that all political parties must clarify their stand on the NRC issue. In Parliament, the Home Minister appealed to the Opposition not to politicise the “sensitive” matter as the list has been published on the directives of the SC and the Centre has “no role” in it. He asserted that no “coercive” action will be taken against those whose names were excluded from the NRC draft list.

In a related development, Parliament granted more time to a joint committee examining the Citizenship Amendment Bill to submit its report. It would now need to submit its report on the first day of the last week of the winter session to submit its report. The Bill seeks to the grant citizenship to the people belonging to minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan after six years of residence in India, instead of a wait of 12 years, even if they do not possess any proper document.

Reports from Guwahati said that many of them whose names did not figure in the final draft of the NRC have pointed out that they had submitted the same set of documents as their family members to establish their legacy date, but were left out. The Bengal CM also said that the family members of former President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed have not found their name in the NRC.

Prominent personalities in Barak Valley whose names are missing from the draft include Archana Paul, the wife of BJP MLA from Cachar Dilip Paul, former Congress MLA Ataur Rahman Mazarbhuiya, and AIUDF’s Cachar unit President Samimul Islam and family.

Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy said those “howling” over the complete draft of the NRC in Assam should read the definition of ‘refugees’ by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In a series of tweets this morning, he also said that Muslims entering India are not refugees as they have not faced any persecution in their home countries.

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