The release of the Final Draft list of the National Register of citizens of Assam has predictably opened a Pandora’s box in national politics as it left out 4 million out of 3.29 crores whose claims were scrutinized with reference to March 24 1971. While taking due note of the Union Home Ministers solemn assurance that this is only a” draft” and not the final list and that even after the final list there will be scope for appeal to the Foreigner tribunal , this will be a game changer in Assam politics for the following reasons:
The district wise break up of the 4 million persons excluded from the draft is crucial because Assam comprises 3 Barak valley districts- Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi and Dhubri and Goalpara districts in West Assam which were” transferred” from Bengal in 1873 when Assam was carved out of Bengal Presidency to make the new province viable. These are inhabited by the ethnic Bengalis- Hindu and Muslim – a fact that must be noted. Thus if a large proportion of the excluded in the Draft is from these areas it will produce a destabilising effect.
There has been a long standing demand in the Barak valley for separation from Assam which might get intensified. Next vast Tracts of lower and central Assam of seven districts such as Barpeta and Nagaon were thrown open to “Immigrant Muslims” from Bengal in the British period who constitute over 90%of the Muslims of Brahmaputra valley today and have been politically assertive.
The fact that they return Assamese as their mother tongue during every census since 1951 has made this group an important stakeholder of Assamese identity especially after the Bodos have successfully asserted their separate political and linguistic identity. Thus if a sizeable portion of the ” left out” is from this segment, it might upset the delicate socio political balance.
Assam is much like India – a multi ethnic, lingual- cultural and religious political society in a volatile border region already fractured into 7 states and 22 autonomous councils created under the Sixth Schedule and state laws. Integrity of Assam is a key to peace and development of the North East.
The NRC exercise warrants a deft handling with a sense of history because NRC was prepared only in Assam and because of failure of 1950 Nehru Liaquat Pact to provide security to the Minorities in East Pakistan as evident from the unabated migration of Hindus to India while more Muslims started infiltrating into India taking advantage of the provision of the Pact which allowed return of Muslims to India who left in the wake of communal disturbances to East Pakistan.
Hence the decision of the Government of India to prepare Assam specific NRC1951 , to implement simultaneously the Prevention of Infiltration from Pakistan scheme and enactment of the Immigrants ( expulsion from Assam) Act 1950 which contained a significant provisio that it would not apply to persons ” who left areas which now from Pakistan due to religious persecution or fear of such persecution”. This was obviously a protective provision for the Hindus, Buddhists and christians of Pakistan. All these possibly explain the reasoned stand of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the parliament today.
( The writer is a retired IAS officer of the Assam – Meghalaya cadre and has served as Scientific Consultant in the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India)