New Delhi: The new state coordinator of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has, in the past, expressed views on social media that could raise questions about how he approaches the contentious exercise.
Hitesh Dev Sarma, a 1989-batch Assam Civil Service (ACS) officer, has made several posts on Facebook which have been critical of “East Pakistani Muslims” (Muslims from Bangladesh) residing in Assam.
In one such post on 1 October 2019, Sarma said: “I like Arnab Goswami’s logic. We cannot accept a foreigner as Indian even if he speaks Assamese…”
Approached for a comment by ThePrint, Sarma refused to comment on whether his posts regarding the NRC would lead to a conflict of interest, adding that his Facebook profile was “very personal”.
Sarma, whose appointment was announced Saturday, replaces Prateek Hajela, who was released from duty on 18 October for inter-cadre deputation to Madhya Pradesh by the Supreme Court. A 1995-batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, Hajela was criticised by the BJP government in Assam, which was unhappy with the large number of Hindus excluded from the final NRC list.
The SC’s decision to transfer Hajela had come a little over a month after the NRC list, which left out over 19 lakh applicants, was published in Assam on 31 August.
However, this is not Sarma’s first NRC stint. An M.A. in economics from Gauhati University, he had served at the NRC Directorate in 2013 too. He was subsequently moved to the Assam Finance and Urban Development Department in 2016.
The official order of the Assam government, dated 9 November 2019, now states that Sarma will serve as secretary to the home and political departments, state coordinator, NRC, and in-charge of the NRC Directorate.
‘What has Assam agitation done to Assamese identity’
In a January 2019 post — written in Assamese — Sarma said “Bengali Muslims from East Pakistan” had taken advantage of the infiltration crisis in Assam. The indigenous populations, he added, have therefore always been sidelined.
In another January 2019 post, Sarma asked: “By giving citizenship to 50 lakh East Pakistanis, how have the participants of the ‘historical’ Assam Agitation contributed to the identity of Assamese people?”
Sarma also did not approve of the Assam Accord in a February 2019 post, where he said: “Those who had deceived the Assamese people and the martyrs by signing the Assam Accord in 1985, which allowed inclusion of 50 lakh East Pakistanis, were treated like heroes…”
The Assam Accord states that all those who came to Assam prior to 1 January 1966 would be given citizenship. The ones who came between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1971 would be detected according to provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964. It also said that those who came after 24 March 1971, would continue to be detected, and steps would be taken to expel them.
In another post on 1 April 2019, Sarma referred to the partition of Pakistan and “Hindustan” — a word typically associated with identifying India as the land of Hindus.
He said: “Each and every Indian and Assamese must remember what the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan meant.”
In June 2018, Sarma had expressed displeasure that the flag bearers of nationalism were also the ones who facilitated citizenship to 50 lakh “East Pakistanis”.
A previous version of the report incorrectly named NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma as Hitesh Raj Sarma. The error has been rectified.