Himanta Biswa Sarma says Assam’s ethnic Muslims have nothing to fear about NRC update and the state belongs as much to them as it does to other communities.
Influential BJP leader and minister in the Assam government, Himanta Biswa Sarma, says it is too early to talk about what approach would be adopted towards those identified as illegal immigrants once the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is fully updated. In an interview with Associate Editor Ruhi Tewari, Sarma also says Assam’s ethnic Muslims have nothing to fear and the state belongs as much to them as it does to other communities. Excerpts:
The Congress party has alleged the process of updating the NRC is not
being taken seriously by the BJP government. What do you say?
The honourable Supreme Court is satisfied with the way we are revising the NRC and the entire activity is being monitored by the court. The final judgment does not rest with the Congress party; it rests with the honourable SC. Since it is a court-monitored exercise, it is finally the court which will decide whether Congress allegations are true or whether it feels Assam is extremely serious about revising this list.
Once the final list is out and you identify the ‘illegal immigrants’, what will be next? Is it even possible to deport them?
I think people are going too far. As of now the job is to have an NRC; what will be done with that NRC, nobody has thought of yet. The discussion in 2005 between government of India and government of Assam was limited to updation of the NRC. After this, what will happen to the people whose names aren’t there, we will again have to sit down to discuss.
Many people have ideas like their names shouldn’t be in the voter list, some say they should live with work permit, some say they should be given a refugee status, some say they should be expelled. There are many ideas being floated around but there is no official discussion between the Assam government and the government of India.
There are concerns among Assam’s indigenous Muslim community that this exercise has religious undertones and they might be targeted. What would you say to that?
I have not come across any indigenous Muslim person of Assam who has serious concerns about NRC. The indigenous Muslim community has been living here for hundreds of years and this state belongs as much to them as to us.
They have no reason to be concerned about NRC updation. The government of Assam will go that extra mile if there is anything they are concerned about.
We strongly feel Assam is for tribals, for tea community and the Assamese community, which comprises both Hindus and indigenous Muslims, as well as Indian citizens legally settled in Assam.
What would you say about the Congress’ claims that NRC updation is their baby and they launched the pilots?
If that way Congress wants to take credit, then I can say it is my baby because in 2005 when then PM Manmohan Singh was to visit Assam and AASU called a bandh, then I started backroom talks with them and it was me who discussed the basic modalities of NRC. But the fact is this updation has been possible because of the intervention of the SC, the goodwill of the government of India and the tremendous courage and sincerity shown by government employees, political leadership and citizens of Assam.
If the Congress wants to hijack it, then I can also do a counter-hijack. But that should not be the spirit. When they see some kind of trouble, they will say it is not my baby. Like in the case of GST, when they see roadblocks, they said it is BJP’s baby and when the numbers are good, they say it is their baby.
Do you anticipate agitations and violent reactions once the final list is out?
It all depends on how people look at it. If they believe the system was transparent and they were given enough opportunities, there will not be any violence. Due process is important. Giving complete natural justice, giving opportunity to be heard and to appeal are important.
Our government is very sure we will give natural justice to the last mile. If someone tries to adopt a short-cut of procedures, there will be violence. But that is not the intention of the chief minister, government of India or the Supreme Court.
What would you say about the forthcoming elections in three states in the northeast — Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland?
For the first time, we are almost sure we will unseat the Left in Tripura. The BJP will form government there. In Meghalaya, I can assure you there will be no Congress government. What shape will the government take and who will finally form the government, there is still some uncertainty about because there is no pre-poll alliance.
In Nagaland too, there will be no Congress government. It will almost be a one-sided affair and NDA will form government.