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Assam NRC: Opposition Raises Alarm as 40 Lakh Risk Losing Citizenship, Centre Says Don't Panic Yet

Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted that no "coercive" action will be taken against those whose names were excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft list and ample time will be given to people to raise objections.

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Updated:July 31, 2018, 4:30 PM IST
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Assam NRC: Opposition Raises Alarm as 40 Lakh Risk Losing Citizenship, Centre Says Don't Panic Yet
People wait to check their names on the final draft of the state's National Register of Citizens after it was released, at an NRC Seva Kendra in Nagaon on Monday. (PTI Photo)
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Guwahati/New Delhi: A massive Supreme Court-monitored exercise to identify genuine Indian nationals living in Assam on Monday excluded over 40 lakh people from the final draft list, triggering a political slugfest with the opposition alleging that it was the BJP's “gameplan” to divide the people for electoral gains.

It has also given rise to fears that stripping almost four million people of their citizenship could pave the way for one of the biggest humanitarion crisis in the world as it would create the world's largest stateless population.

The issue rocked both houses of Parliament after which Home Minister Rajnath Singh appealed to the opposition not to politicise the "sensitive" matter as the list has been published on the directives of the Supreme Court 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 National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft list.

The ruling BJP in Assam had raised the issue of foreign nationals in Assam during the 2016 assembly polls, promising an error-free NRC.

At a press conference in Guwahati, Registrar General of India Sailesh announced that 2.89 crore people were found to be eligible for inclusion in the complete draft of the ambitious draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) out of a total 3.29 crore applicants. Around 40.07 lakh applicants, however, did not find a place in the document, casting a shadow over their fate.

Assam-NRC-cartoon
A News18 creative by Mir Suhail.

Soon after, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hit out at the Centre, accusing it of resorting to "vote bank politics". "This divide and rule policy will finish the country," she said at a press conference in Kolkata, alleging it was a "gameplan" to isolate and "throw out of the state" Bengali speaking people and Biharis.

Banerjee also claimed that names of people who have passports, Aadhaar and voter cards have also been excluded from the final draft.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi termed the move "tardy" and asked the government to "resolve the crisis". He said the move was initiated by former PM Manmohan Singh but the manner in which this exercise has been undertaken by the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state of Assam leaves much to be desired.

Notwithstanding the criticism, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said it was a historic day for the state, which will abide by all the directions of the apex court. Assam Pradesh Congress president Ripun Bora alleged it was a "motivated" action under the BJP which was trying to play "politics of polarisation".

AIUDF president Badruddin Ajmal appeared to take a cautious approach, saying everyone should wait for the final list. However, he said, exclusion of 40 lakh people was "not a small matter" and his party would assist the people to ensure that no genuine person is left out.

Welcoming the development, former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who had spearheaded the six-year-long Assam agitation against foreigners and was a signatory to the historic Assam Accord, said the central government "must deport people who have come after March 24, 1971 to their original country".

Assam, which has witnessed an influx of people from neighbouring Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state having an NRC, which was first prepared in 1951. The current NRC is being updated with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to include names of genuine Indian citizens.

Asked about the reasons for excluding names of around 40 lakh applicants, NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela, who was also present at the press meet, said, "We are not going to make the reasons public. It will be informed individually. They can find the reasons by visiting NRC Sewa Kendras (NSK)."

There are also names which were included in the first draft but have been deleted from the complete one. When inquired if any person, who appeared in the complete draft, could be excluded from the final list once the process of claims and objections were over, the RGI replied in the affirmative.

Later in the evening, the Union Home Ministry announced that the final NRC list will be published by December 31, 2018.

assam new
A News18 Creative by Mir Suhail.

The opposition, especially the TMC, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and Left parties strongly raised the issue in Parliament, disrupting the proceedings several times in both houses. While Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu adjourned the House for the day as the din continued even after three adjournments, opposition members staged a walk out in Lok Sabha.

Rejecting criticism, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the draft NRC is completely "impartial" and those whose names are not included should not panic as they will get an opportunity to prove their Indian citizenship. "No coercive action will be taken against anyone. Hence, there is no need for anyone to panic. This is a draft and not the final list," he told reporters here.

Talking about the status of people who were excluded from the list, Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary (North East) Satyendra Garg said the authorities will not forward any name to the Foreigners Tribunals on the basis of the draft.

"The claims and objections process will begin on August 30 and continue till September 28. Adequate, ample scope will be given to people for their objections. No genuine Indian citizens should have any fear."

The first draft of the NRC was published during the intervening nights of December 31 and January 1 this year, containing 1.9 crore names.

Security was beefed up across the state to prevent any law and order situation following the publication of the draft. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC were imposed in seven districts - Barpeta, Darrang, Dima Hasao, Sonitpur, Karimganj, Golaghat and Dhubri-- and 22,000 paramilitary personnel were deployed.

The groundwork for the exercise began in December 2013 and so far over 40 hearings have taken place in the Supreme Court in the last 3.5 years.
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