Ex-CM of Assam claims NRC alone can’t solve problem of illegal migrants if voters’ lists are not corrected.
Instead of instilling confidence in people, the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has created confusion and doubts, claims former chief minister of Assam and senior Congress leader Tarun Gogoi. In an interview with Associate Editor Ruhi Tewari, the three-time CM says that unless voters’ lists are corrected, the NRC update alone cannot solve the problem of illegal immigrants. Edited excerpts:
How do you view the ongoing NRC update process? Do you think it is being conducted in a free and fair manner?
After the publication of the draft report, it appears…that they (the government) have not taken it very seriously. We sincerely want it to be a correct NRC where only genuine Indian citizens find a place and foreigners are excluded. But unfortunately, the draft published on 31 December creates doubts about the capabilities, efficiency and commitment of the authorities.
A large number of genuine and prominent Indian citizens have not found their names in the first list, including MPs, ex-ministers and MLAs, journalists, judges and even the chairman of the Human Rights Commission. So there are definitely doubts about the process.
In certain areas, particularly minority dominated areas — be it religious or linguistic minorities — a vast majority’s names have been left out in the first draft. It creates a doubt in their minds as to why, despite being Indian citizens, their names have been left out.
Instead of creating confidence, the draft list creates confusion, doubts and divisions among ourselves. It is nothing but part of BJP’s divisive policies.
Can you tell us something about your experience of how NRC came about?
The NRC was my baby. It was I who first decided to go for NRC updation.
Neither the AASU demanded NRC updation nor was it in the Assam Accord. When I came to power, we decided that this should happen so that there is a list where only the names of genuine Indian citizens is there and it will be easier to identify foreigners also. Accordingly, I conveyed to AASU and I wanted it to be prepared on the basis of the Assam Accord. In 2005, we had a meeting between government of India, government of Assam and AASU as well.
But nobody had any idea how to go about it. So after long discussions, I said let there be a pilot project. We selected two places, where there is a lot of suspicion about existence of foreigners, and the process was started.
However, there were huge protests and it became violent so we stopped it. But we didn’t give up the idea. We constituted a cabinet committee, which had many leaders, including Himanta Biswa Sarma.
In 2013, the government of India finally decided to announce it. During my tenure, nearly 60-70 per cent of the job had been done. When they (BJP) came to power, we saw that the work instead of picking up, had slowed down.
The BJP government has said it will give citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus. Does this stand create concern even among the indigenous Assamese Muslims?
They have a contradictory approach. The NRC is being prepared on the basis of the Assam Accord, so those who have come after 24 March, 1971, irrespective of religion, would be treated as a foreigner. Now, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is a contradictory step. The fear among Assamese Muslims is also there.
What will happen once the final list is out? Is it even possible to deport those identified as illegal immigrants?
It is not possible. If names are in the voters’ list, and even if they are excluded in the NRC, how can you detect they are foreigners and how can you evict? So long as my name is in the voters list, I am an Indian citizen. How can you throw me out?
So what is the solution?
The solution is to correct both the voters’ list and NRC simultaneously. That is our case.
Do you think this will benefit the BJP politically in the next elections?
Their aim is to win elections by dividing people. But I don’t think this will benefit them.