New Delhi: Assam Civil Service officer Hitesh Dev Sarma was supposed to take charge as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) coordinator in Assam Monday, but hadn’t done so even by Thursday.
The delay follows the discovery of certain controversial Facebook posts of Sarma from earlier this year and in 2018, which raised questions about how he would approach the contentious exercise.
ThePrint approached the state home and political department for comment on the delay, but they refused, as did the office of the principal secretary to the CMO, Sanjay Lohia. Lohia himself couldn’t be reached.
Sarma too refused to answer calls and blocked this reporter.
Principal Private Secretary to the chief minister, Gautam Das, promised to get back to this reporter, but didn’t, and neither did Tuhin Hazarika, the personal assistant to CM Sarbananda Sonowal.
The NRC is an attempt to identify and expel illegal Bangladeshi immigrants from Assam, with 1971 marked as the threshold year. The NRC final list was released earlier this year and deepened the controversy over the exercise as over 19 lakh applicants, many of them Hindus, had been excluded.
Sarma was appointed NRC coordinator after the Supreme Court, which oversaw the exercise, removed IAS officer Prateek Hajela from the post. Hajela, who has been criticised by the Assam BJP for his handling of the exercise, demitted office Saturday and will now take up a posting in Madhya Pradesh. Hajela refused to comment for this report.
Sarma’s Facebook posts, as reported by ThePrint this week, have been critical of “East Pakistani Muslims” (Muslims from Bangladesh) residing in Assam.
One post sought to pour scorn on the Assam Accord, which sought to legitimise the citizenship claim of immigrants who entered the state before 1971, when Bangladesh was liberated.
Another post from January 2019 read as, “Everyone has a problem with taking in more Bangladeshis…..The AASU, in the meanwhile, has given citizenship to 50 lakh East Pakistanis. In spite of the inclusion of lakhs of Bangladeshis in the NRC, they are shooting off the Supreme Court’s shoulders.”
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 a letter to Chief Minister Sonowal, Abdul Khaleque, the Congress MP for Barpeta, Assam, has cited Sarma’s “objectionable” posts to describe him as “biased and untrustworthy”.
In the letter, accessed by ThePrint, he has requested the cancellation of his appointment, an appeal reiterated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Khaleque confirmed to this reporter that he had sought Sarma’s removal. “I have written to the CM asking for the complete cancellation of his appointment,” Khaleque said.
The Supreme Court, which removed Hajela from the post during its last hearing on NRC in October, will next take up the matter on 26 November.
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