India's Assam State In Citizenship Confusion

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By Shakir Husain
Bernama's correspondent in New Delhi Shakir Husain shares his take on the happenings in India.

NEW DELHI, Aug 6 (Bernama) -- India's northeastern state of Assam is caught in a political muddle after four million people in the region bordering Bangladesh were not accepted as Indian citizens.

A slugfest erupted between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its opponents after the government recently published the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

The draft has names of 29 million people out of a total of 32.9 million who submitted applications.

The exclusion of such a large number of people has led to fears about potential violation of their basic human rights as they may be denied the constitutional guarantees available to Indian citizens.

"By depriving 40 lakh (four million) people from religious and linguistic minorities living there for years of their citizenship, the BJP governments both at the centre and in Assam have achieved the target of their narrow and divisive politics," prominent Dalit leader Mayawati said.

Opposition leaders accused the government of playing politics on the citizenship issue in Assam, where hardline groups asserting their Assamese identity allege that the Bengali-speakers, a large number of them Muslims, were illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

The claims are rejected by Dhaka, which considers the issue as India's internal matter.

"We see this as an internal, local political issue with the Indian state of Assam. It has nothing to do with Bangladesh. The Indian government has not discussed this issue with us, nor do we have any intention to take it up with India as it is an internal matter of India," Bangladesh's Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu was quoted as saying by Indian media.

"There is no illegal immigrant from Bangladesh in India. This issue, let me stress, has never been discussed between us and India in the past 48 years," he said.

Neighbouring state West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is among the harshest critics of the NRC exercise.

"The NRC is being done with a political motive. We will not let this happen. They (BJP) are trying to divide the people," Banerjee said at a conference in New Delhi last week.

Federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh has called for calm, saying the draft published on July 30 was "impartial" and those not included would get another chance to prove their citizenship.

"No coercive action will be taken against anyone. Hence, there is no need for anyone to panic," he said.

But the divisive and communal rhetoric over the issue is unlikely to go away soon.

Arun Jaitley, a Cabinet minister in the Narendra Modi government, in a blog post raised the spectre of the Hindu community being marginalised in Assam.

He quoted a Supreme Court order in his blog that said the influx of illegal migrants was turning some Assam districts into a Muslim-majority region and this could lead to a demand for their merger with Bangladesh.

Acrimonious exchanges have been witnessed between members of the BJP and opposition parties in Parliament.

Telugu Desam Party leader Y.S. Chowdary said "standard operating procedures" were not followed before declaring people non-citizens.

"I don't understand what NRC thought about what to do with 4,000,000 people," he said.

Those who had documents to prove that they or their family members lived in Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971, were eligible for inclusion in the NRC.

Various errors and anti-Muslim bias have been pointed out in the process.

Mohammad A. Haq said his name was not on the list despite his long career with the Indian military.

"I served in the Indian army for 30 years. I am really sad that my name is not mentioned in the NRC list. I served the nation with commitment. I have legacy data of my parents. The investigation should be fair and friendly," Haq told an Indian news agency.

Thousands of people from the Gorkha community are also excluded.

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a regional political party, said some of its leaders were missing from the published list.

Badruddin Ajmal, AIUDF chief and a member of Parliament, said people have been labelled as Bangladeshi on a "fast-track basis".

Ajmal said the former Congress government was not sincere in preparing the NRC and the current BJP administration also did not want to do it with honesty.

Edited by Rema Nambiar