IT took six long years to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam on the directions of the Supreme Court. More than 50,000 employees of the state government were involved in the humongous task of verifying the antecedents of around 3.3 crore people — of which about 19 lakh eventually did not figure on the final list — at a cost of over Rs 1,200 crore. Despite all the time, effort and money expended, the exercise came a cropper. It was rejected outright not only by the opposition parties but also by the ruling BJP. However, the disaster has not deterred Home Minister Amit Shah from announcing that the process would be carried out across the country. There is no exemption for Assam, which would have to go through the rigmarole all over again.
The Centre’s objective of weeding out infiltrators and other illegal foreigners in the name of national security might open a can of worms, considering that people who have fled persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries have been living here for decades — mostly without proper documentation. The first step should be to ascertain why things went horribly wrong in Assam. The then NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela, an IAS officer, is being made the scapegoat, but it’s obvious that there have been lapses at all levels that led to the omission of many bona fide Indian nationals.
Shah’s assurance that all citizens of India, irrespective of their religion, will be part of the NRC is not enough to allay the minorities’ fears of a witch-hunt. In a recent report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom dubbed the NRC a ‘targeted mechanism to disenfranchise Assam’s Bengali Muslim community, potentially rendering large numbers of Muslims stateless.’ It would be a perilous and chaotic course to conduct the exercise on a pan-India scale without addressing the issues that have cropped up in the northeastern state. The Centre also needs to build consensus on the matter; otherwise, it would only be inflicting yet another disruption on the country’s hapless residents.