Udalguri: After standing in a long queue for hours under the scorching sun, 33-year-old Purushottam Adhikary came out from the polling station of Jangal Barigaon LP School in Udalguri district under the Mangoldoi parliamentary constituency, some 91 km from the state capital of Guwahati.
Following him were his elder brother Mukunda, his father Meghnath and grandmother Uma Devi Upaddhay. But instead of being relieved, a sense of gloom was clearly visible on all of their faces.
The reason - they are all scared whether they can vote again in next polls or not since names of all the four are missing from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), being updated in Assam.
The four were amongst the 40.07 lakh applicants whose names did not appear in the final draft of the NRC released on July 30 last year. A total of 36.20 lakh people, who missed the draft, have re-applied for inclusion in the final NRC.
The final NRC list is slated to release on July 31 this year. The NRC is being updated in Assam on the basis of the Assam Accord, which had fixed midnight of March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date to segregate illegal migrants from the population. The Supreme Court has been monitoring the exercise.
Adhikary said, “Does this indelible ink mean anything? All our family members came out to vote as we all believe that it’s a duty as citizens of this country. But due to the erroneous NRC updation process, four of us were not listed as Indian citizens now. Who knows whether we can vote next election or not?”
Already, the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Assam, Mukesh Kumar Sahu, clarified that people whose names have figured in the current electoral rolls are eligible to vote despite their names not being in the NRC draft. Though that may change in the future, once the final list comes out. After the general polls, Assam will go for Assembly polls in 2021.
The Lok Sabha poll this time in Assam has been centered on the NRC and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill issues. The BJP, Congress, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and all the other parties this election have primarily built their campaigning around the contentious issue of citizenship.
So far, Assam has gone through two phases already for 10 parliamentary seats. Around 78 per cent votes were recorded. The state will go for polling again on April 23, the third and final phase of polls here.
Assam Gorkha Sanmilan (AGS) secretary Dipak Nirola said, “There is immense fear and anxiety among those who did not make it to both the drafts as uncertainty looms over their future. While many in the Gorkha community were tagged as ‘Doubtful’ voters disabling them to cast their votes this time, many were left out from the NRC final draft. Isn’t it a complete failure of the Home Ministry who has failed to prepare a fair voter list and NRC?”
“My grandmother is 81 years old and she was born in India as well as the rest of family. However, despite submitting all the valid and necessary documents before the NRC Seva Kendra (NSK), the authority is yet to clarify our doubts. It seems like a conspiracy,” stated Mukunda.
In Assam, the issue of illegal infiltrators has been a part and parcel of politics since the beginning of the six-year-long Assam Agitation (1979-1985) aiming at identifying, detecting and deporting the illegal migrants from the state. The Mangaldoi constituency was one of the flashpoints during the agitation.
It was after the revision of electoral rolls of Mangaldoi constituency in the by-polls of 1979 that the biggest mass movement in Assam gained momentum. During the process, an abnormal growth in the number of registered voters was observed in Mangaldoi constituency.
Subsequently, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) had demanded of postponing the voting till the names of foreign nationals were deleted from the electoral rolls. This eventually led to the Assam Agitation that had claimed 855 lives and finally ended by the signing of the Assam Accord on 15 August 1985, which directed the creation of an NRC.
Most applicants filing claims in the NSKs in the constituency at Mangaldoi, Kharupetia and Sipajhar were found to be women from Muslim communities as well as people from the Gorkha community. In Assam, the majority number of claims and objections has been filed in Barpeta, followed by Nagaon and neighbouring Morigaon, two Muslim majority districts, said an official in the NRC secretariat here.
Samujjal Bhattacharya, the AASU advisor, said, “Hundreds of Assam’s indigenous communities like Koch Rajbongshi, Gorkhas, Adivasis and other locals were found to be missing in the final NRC draft. AASU is in favour of all those who have been living here prior to March 25, 1971 deadline. Be it Hindu, Muslim or anyone else whoever entered Assam after the cut-off date has to go.”
However, the issue of illegal migrants and their detection has become complex. The Centre recently informed the apex court that around 70,000 ‘declared’ foreigners in Assam are ‘traceless’. The home ministry in an affidavit said that out of 91,609 persons declared by various Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) in Assam as illegal foreigners as of March 2018, at least 72,486 are absconding.
A Supreme Court lawyer and an Independent candidate for Guwahati Lok Sabha elections, Upamannyu Hazarika alleged, “There are multiple instances where declared names of foreigners were found in the electoral rolls and genuine citizens were left out. Moreover, in spite of the Supreme Court directing a sample re-verification of some 10 per cent of NRC draft inclusions, the government did nothing. Rather they are seeking a relaxation of norms to include all those left out from the NRC. They have made the entire NRC process a farce.”
The SC lawyer, who has taken NRC re-verification and land reservation law for indigenous people of the state as his prime poll agenda, has urged the people of the state to translate their resentments into votes and uproot those who betrayed them.
“There should be an independent committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and the re-verification of NRC should be carried out by officials from other states as many local ground level officials trace their origins in present-day Bangladesh and might have affinities towards those people,” he demanded.
In Assam, over 40 persons have suspected to have committed suicide after their names went missing in the NRC lists. The latest amongst the tragic deaths was recorded in Mangaldoi, as 59-year-old Sandhya Chakravarty committed suicide allegedly due to trauma developed owing to non-inclusion of her name in the final draft NRC.
She set herself on fire in February. Family members claimed that she was highly embarrassed after her name was found to be missing in the final draft of NRC.