19 Lakh Suspect Illegal Migrants Excluded From Assam Citizens' List. Over To Foreigners’ Tribunal And Courts Now

Assam NRC 2019 final list: Those whose names don't appear in the citizens' list can appeal in the Foreigners' Tribunal, the government has said.

By Debanish Achom

Nineteen lakh out of 41 lakh people in Assam who had applied for re-verification of citizenship have been declared as suspect illegal migrants after their names didn’t make it to the final National Register of Citizens (NRC). At least 3.11 crore people are in the final NRC. Assam’s population is approximately 3.30 crore, including the 19 lakh suspect illegal migrants.

The NRC, also known as the Assam citizens’ list, seeks to segregate Indian citizens living in the state from those who have illegally entered the state from Bangladesh and other countries after March 25, 1971. The NRC was first published in Assam in 1951.

Today’s publication of the final NRC data after a two-year-long exercise ridden with controversies is the second biggest development and perhaps a historic milestone - all within a month - in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term, after the government’s move to scrap special status from Jammu and Kashmir and divide the state into two union territories, as the NRC would alter to quite a consequential extent the demography and politics of Assam.

The final NRC is online here.

Assam NRC 2019 final list: The citizens' list is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue in the north-eastern state that shares a porous border with Bangladesh.

A long legal battle lies ahead for the people, mostly the poor, whose names are not on the list. The government has said they cannot be declared as illegal migrants till they have exhausted all legal options. The first step for them is to appeal in the Foreigners’ Tribunals. They can advance from there to the high court and then to the Supreme Court.

The government has said 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals are presently operating and 200 more would be opened on Sunday. The target is to have 1,000 tribunals up and running in phases in a few months.

Once all legal options are exhausted, the illegal migrants would be sent to detention camps, which are being set up across Assam, according to reports.

“Those who do not find their names in the final NRC should not panic. The Home Ministry has notified clearly that those left out will get ample opportunities to appeal in the Foreigners' Tribunal court. The time period for making an appeal has been extended from 60 to 120 days for the convenience of the people. I appeal to all to maintain peace…” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said in a video message on Twitter less than 24 hours before the final list was released.

Assam NRC final list 2019: Genuine Indian citizens in Assam have had to continually fight for resources and land with illegal immigrants, mostly who have come from Bangladesh.

Brief analysis of the Assam NRC final list 2019

So far there is no data on how many people of what religion have been declared as suspect migrants.

Some BJP leaders have raised concerns over a large number of Bengali Hindus being left out of the NRC. Mr Sonowal, after meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah last week, said the government may consider bringing in a law to remove foreigners who could have entered the list and add genuine citizens who could have been left out.

The BJP may be worried over exclusion of a large number of Hindus. It is estimated that a majority of Assam's 18 per cent Bengali Hindu vote bank supports the BJP. In the national election this year, the BJP won nine out of 14 seats in Assam - a stellar performance due to consolidation of tribals, Assamese Hindus and Bengali Hindus.

For most part of the NRC exercise since 2017, the opponents of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have been attacking PM Modi and the party chief Amit Shah for allegedly using the NRC as a tool to harass Muslims in Assam. But this allegation doesn’t hold water against the recent reports that a large number of Bengali Hindus may have been left out of the final NRC.

Assam NRC final list 2019: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be worried over exclusion of a large number of Bengali Hindus from the citizens' list.

A flawed citizens' list? Depends on how you see it

The powerful All Assam Students Union (AASU) that led the agitation in the 1980s against the massive influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has expressed disappointment over the final NRC. Large-scale ethnic violence in 1983 led to what came to be known as the Assam Accord, after which the push for the NRC become stronger in 1985. The AASU was the main force behind the protests.

Some reports appear to hint the final Assam citizens’ list is a mess. For example, All India United Democratic Front MLA Ananta Kumar Malo’s name is not on the NRC list, so is the name of Kargil War veteran Mohammad Sanaullah. While his wife is in the final list, his daughters and sons are not. Many such cases have tumbled out today.

Assam NRC 2019 final list: Several instances of some names in a single family missing in the citizens' list, while other members in the family have made it, have been reported. 

The proponents of the Assam NRC, however, while agreeing to certain cracks in the process like bad data collection, corruption in the lower levels and plain government inefficiency, argue that even if one was a retired soldier or an elected politician, it does not change the fact that one could have entered India illegally after the NRC’s cut-off date.

“It has been a long journey. Since 1979, people of Assam have been fighting against unchecked illegal immigrants. NRC was seen as a solution to address this long pending problem. Today, after this is published, we can say that an attempt was made to solve this. Whether we succeeded or not, it is a subjective question,” said Tituraj Kashyap, a communications specialist from Assam who works at a private firm in Gurgaon. Mr Kashyap is a key member of the North East India Image Managers, a group that promotes positive stories and discussions about the north-east region. (Disclosure: The author of journey basket is also a member of NEIIM).

“However, the key takeaway is that it is now affirmed illegal immigration into Assam is not a whiff of someone's imagination. It is going to be next to impossible to detect these foreigners and deport them to their respective countries. A more pragmatic solution will be to enforce Clause 6 of Assam Accord so that the indigenous people of the state are provided with constitutional safeguards based on 1951 census. It must ensure that political and land rights are reserved exclusively for people of Assam,” said Mr Kashyap.

Assam NRC final list 2019: The people of Assam say their culture has been threatened by decades of illegal migration from Bangladesh, which shares a porous border with their state.

NRC in other states

Nineteen lakh or just a lakh shy of two million is not a small number - that’s more than half of the population in Assam’s neighbours Manipur (28 lakh) and Nagaland (23 lakh). Looking at the number of suspect illegals in Assam, other states have also expressed interest in running the NRC filter.

But after reports of a large number of Bengali Hindus being left out of the final list, other states may reconsider running the NRC filter in case it boomerangs. The corollary of this thinking is quite clear - the Assam NRC is mainly to weed out Bangladeshi Muslims, and that goal is perfectly fine. No amount of mincing words will change this fact.

“National Register of Citizens (NRC) is needed in Delhi as situation is becoming dangerous. Illegal immigrants who have settled here are the most dangerous, we will implement NRC here as well,” Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari told news agency ANI. It’s not clear how he intends to do that since his party has only three seats in the 70-member assembly of the national capital ruled by Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal.

Assam NRC final list 2019: The number of Foreigners' Tribunals to hear the appeals of those whose names have been left out of the final citizens' list will be raised to 1,000 in phases in the coming months, the government has said.

BJP’s youngest Member of Parliament (MP) from Karnataka, Tejasvi Surya, told parliament in July that the southern state needed to run the NRC filter to weed out illegal migrants, singling out Bangladeshis. Odisha BJP leader Baijayant Jay Panda has said NRC is needed for Odisha as well.

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