Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
HomeOpinionRanjan Gogoi-led Supreme Court made NRC messier. Now it must clean it...

Ranjan Gogoi-led Supreme Court made NRC messier. Now it must clean it up

The only solution lies in declaring the current Assam NRC as a provisional list and subjecting it to a full and fair review.

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How do we deal with the holy mess created by the National Register of Citizenship in Assam? As the shock produced by the publication of the final list sinks in, this is a question that must be debated, and not just inside the Supreme Court. But before we look ahead, we must look back to see what led to this mess in the first place. Any prescription must be based on a careful diagnosis.

Everyone agrees that the NRC is a failed exercise. Except, perhaps, a bureaucrat in Assam and a judge in the Supreme Court. The failure is probably the only thing all the warring stakeholders agree on, for very different reasons of course. Minority organisations and their political voices call it a failure as it vindicates their fears about arbitrary and discriminatory exclusion of the Muslims. The BJP is unhappy for the opposite reason: the list excludes fewer Muslims and more Bengali Hindus than it had bargained for. Now its focus has shifted from excluding Muslims to saving the Hindus. Human rights group worry about such a large exclusion from any community. Organisations like the All Assam Students Union (AASU) are unhappy that the list is much smaller than the number of foreigners they have always believed to be in Assam. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had earlier expressed his unhappiness that the exercise did not take place as per its directions. The Assam government was unhappy that it did not fulfil its designs. Looking at the final outcome, it is easy and tempting to see the NRC as misadventure plain and simple, as a bad idea that should not have seen the light of day.

Also read: For Assam’s ‘foreigners’ who suffered in detention camps, NRC doesn’t mean end of troubles

Turning a good idea into a tragedy

Such a naïve reading must be resisted. If anything, the NRC shows how a good idea can turn into a farce and a tragedy. It is a perfect example of all that is wrong with our public life. This one example shows how our political parties, civil society organisations, bureaucracy and the judiciary came together to turn a possible solution into an impossible problem.

There is nothing wrong with the idea of a full and verified register of citizenship. Preparation and verification of such a list should be a regular task of any state. More so, in a place like Assam, where there has been a long-standing and legitimate apprehension of large-scale entry of illegal immigrants. No one knows the exact number, but everyone in the know of things places the number of immigrants from Bangladesh at a few lakhs. This calls for a systematic exercise of verification. In any case, the revised NRC was a part of a formal commitment made by the government of India in the Assam Accord of 1985. The question we should be asking is not why have an NRC, but why did it take three and a half decades to get it and why was it botched up.

Also read: Children out, parents in: The real challenge begins now that final Assam NRC is here

Politics and judiciary to blame

The first blame must lie with the political class. Having agreed to the NRC in the Assam Accord, the Congress governments did not have the political will to implement it. On the contrary, Congress politicians worked out devious designs to ensure that it won’t ever take place and gave out signals that no one needs to take it seriously.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the legatee of the anti-foreigners movement, failed to implement its own principal agenda when it was in power. Everyone acquiesced into inaction on this critical issue. Human rights organisations and progressive movements provided a principled justification for this inaction. It was then left to the BJP to revive this plank by turning the anti-immigrant agenda into an anti-Muslim campaign.

So, when in 2013 the Supreme Court finally pushed the unwilling Congress government (and later the equally unwilling BJP government) into implementing the NRC, it was only pushing the political class into doing what they should have done long ago. This is where it confronted the limitations of state capacity. The bureaucracy was simply in no position to carry out an exercise of this scale and stakes, that too 50 years after the cut-off date, with due diligence and non-partisanship required.

The Supreme Court made matters worse by insisting on the most cumbersome procedures. The political context of the rise of the BJP, and the talk of deportation and detention camps made this impossible. What followed was predictable chaos: confusion, blunders, corruption and discrimination. Someone, somewhere should have put a halt to this exercise and carried out a careful review. But that someone had to be the Supreme Court. Sadly, CJI Ranjan Gogoi, who has been hearing this case since the beginning, made this a matter of personal prestige and disregarded every warning signal. There is no harm in a judge wanting to leave a legacy, but things get mixed up when the case involves his own locality and his community. The CJI could have recused himself, but he did not. Judicial intemperance finally brought us where we stand today.

Also read: With Assam NRC, the truth is also out — it was a pointless exercise all along

The only solution now

Where do we go from here? Abandon the damn thing, would be a simple option. But that would be a grave error, pushing the problem to a later date and perhaps a worse solution. There is no going back from where we have already reached.

On the other end, some NRC enthusiasts would advocate pursuing it to its logical end: detection, followed by deletion and deportation. This would be stupid and dangerous. Deportation or detention is simply not an option. The BJP would like to do a selective implementation by combining the NRC with the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. That would mean NRC and exclusion for Muslims, but no exclusion for non-Muslims. That would be pernicious and amount to an acceptance of the two-nation theory.

Given the situation we are in, the only solution lies in declaring the currently published NRC as a provision list and subjecting it to a full and fair review before the final remedy of individual appeals in a court of law. Such a review must not be left to the state or the central government.

Now that the Supreme Court has pushed the envelope this far, it must institute an independent review monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court. At the same time, it must be made clear that exclusion from the NRC carries no penal consequences, except deletion of names from the electoral rolls. Every immigrant who is excluded from the final NRC must automatically be given a residence-cum-work permit. Their children born in India are of course entitled to citizenship. This solution is nowhere close to an ideal solution or what various stakeholders may have wanted. But this is the only way forward from the current mess.

One final lesson: no more NRC in any other part of the country.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. The identification of a citizen is decided on a certificate issued by a government employee. We know well how these guys work. Anything can be done if you grease them. Hence there should be a proper vigilant system before you decide one is a foreigner. If you cannot scrap the system. Start afresh from today. Put the nation first.

  2. Yogendra yadav is right the Supreme Coirt messed up the NRC. I had already shown in another news magazine how the Supreme Court has failed to monitor the upgradation exercise. When Hazela told the Court that the legacy data, which is the key to prove one’s citizenship, was being bought and sold, the Court did not do much.

    But the worst is the Court virtually made all the residents of Assam suspects by asking them to prove that they were citizens of India. This is ansult to the citizens of Assam.

  3. absolute misuse of power with far reaching consequences. the miseries n oppression being suffered by innocent soulswill not go in vain. time wl speak.

  4. When The Bjp govt has already declared that all nonMuslims will be offered citizenship in india, is it necessary to process nrc for hindu people? Why not do it for identifying illegal muslims immigrants only.

  5. If majority of muslims were excluded fron NRC..the same peoples would hail CJI and Government….Such nasty peoples out there…How to aspect justice in present scenerio????

  6. NRC is an exercise to identify ciizens, not to detect foreigners. So all those objections about not enough foreigners detected are meaningless. In such a large exercise, there are bound to be errors, and all those left out have scope to appeal. If at the end of such appeals, the number left out is only a few lakhs, it does not mean that only a few lakhs of foreigners have been detected. One would assume that all those who applied are citizens, and so the 1.9 million left out may all get included. What about foreigners? The obvious answer is: they did not apply! If I was a foreigner, I would definitely not apply, as, if I do not get included, I will be found out!
    The other objection is that a lot of fraud has taken place and many foreigners have sneaked in using forged documents. While this cannot be completely discounted, it is not correct to make this allegation without going through and understanding the processes of cross-verification that the NRC system has undertaken. The innovative way the family data has been used needs to be looked into by those objecting. A simple example: If you, person A, claim that B is your father, you have to also list your brothers and sisters. You list them as C and D, since this information is available to you. Now the cross check is to see if C and D have listed A as their brother or not. So, to commit this fraud, not only do you have to get forged documents and falsify data, you have to also convince C and D to include you, A, as their brother.

  7. Other things being equal, since honourable CJI is – the charming Indian word is hails – from Assam, it would have been decorous to have recused himself from this very emotive case. Instead, the apex court has charged in, afterburners aflame. Now the clean up will have to start. It gladdens my compassionate heart that there will be no deportations. Still, immense human agony can be avoided if the Supreme Court sets out to undo the damage. No national NRC for sure.

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