The missing 4,007,707 -Sanjib Baruah

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published Published on Aug 3, 2018   modified Modified on Aug 3, 2018
-The Indian Express

Can a democracy permit so many to be in a state of liminal legality? NRC poses a political and moral question

The possibility — whether immediate or somewhat remote — that at the end of the process as many as 4 million people may lose their legal status as citizens should not be a cause of celebration in a democracy. Nor should it generate a mad rush among politicians competing for political credit.

If anyone can claim credit for the completion of the draft NRC, it is the coalition of regional political forces in Assam — notably the AASU and the AGP — for relentlessly pushing for it since the days of the Assam Movement. Their decision to turn to the judiciary can only be seen as a positive step. In Assam, there has been much praise for the coordinator of the NRC, Prateek Hajela, and his staff for successfully and competently bringing this enormously complex exercise to near completion.

Hajela’s observations are the best argument I have seen in favour of the NRC. When a reporter asked him about the implications of Bangladesh not being on board, he replied, “It is not really my charter.” As an administrator, he believes his job is to implement actually existing laws. Since the number of unauthorised immigrants in Assam has long been a matter of speculation, he considers finding out the actual number to be an important public service. “Once we are sure what we have in hand, a policy will be made.” But it will be naïve to think that the NRC will finally settle Assam’s tangled “foreigner” question. The issues that Hajela rightly considers to be beyond his mandate will ultimately be decisive.

In the contemporary global system, no state can act on illegal immigration unilaterally. Just because one state decides that a person is a citizen of another country, the other country is not obligated to accept that determination. One way in which governments act on deportation is to sign bilateral agreements for the readmission of nationals of the relevant country. Not only is there no such agreement between India and Bangladesh, by all indications India has never approached the subject of deportation with Bangladesh.

There is enough indication that the ruling party would have preferred to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 before the completion of the NRC. But in Assam the bill was seen as deliberately muddling the situation. If Hindu unauthorised migrants from Bangladesh — including those who have come recently — have a path to Indian citizenship, their exclusion from the NRC becomes a matter of no consequence.

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The Indian Express, 2 August, 2018,

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