At last, the first Draft of NRC (National Register of Citizens) for Assam, 2017-18 was published by the midnight of 31 December, 2017, as per the directive of the Supreme Court of India. The upgradation of the National Register of Citizenship for Assam has been done by the Register General of India under the Supervision of the Supreme Court of India. The exercise has been going on for about last three years. In the current operation, a total of 3.29 crores of applicants had applied for inclusion of their names in NRC. But when the draft list was published, it was seen that it contained only 1.90 crores names while as many as 1.39 crore names mostly of the religious and linguistic minorities were missing. It was found that while 80-90 % of the indigenous Assamese speaking people staying in the districts of upper Assam had featured in the list, the percentage was just 35 to 40% in respect of the lower Assam and central Assam districts. The situation of the Barak valley, mostly inhabited by Bengali speaking people, is worse. The names of many prominent persons like MLAs, MPs, Ex-MLAs and Ex-MPs, government servants, even people serving in the armed forces belonging to religious and linguistic minority communities have been left out.
Before publishing the first list, the NRC authority had repeatedly assured through all forms of media publicity that the names of all genuine Indian Citizens would be included in the final NRC and that they should not be worried. On the other hand the State Government with the approval of the Central Government has deployed 85 companies of para-military forces, in addition to the regular police forces, in the sensitive and vulnerable districts in anticipation of large-scale disturbances after the publication of the first draft. At a time when lakhs of people are worried about the status of their citizenship, the BJP Chief Minister of the state, Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal, declared in a meeting that those people whose names would not be there in the NRC would be declared foreigners and that they would not enjoy any voting or civic rights; they would simply be entitled to food, shelter and work. Clearly, the purpose is to appease the chauvinist forces that have long been on a mission to divide the toiling masses of Assam along religious-linguistic lines and thereby weaken their desired united movement on the burning problems of life originating from the ruthlessly oppressive capitalist system.
Why NRC upgradation only in Assam?
But, the question that needs to be clarified at the outset is what NRC is and what prompted the authorities to take up the job of preparing it specifically for Assam. Section 18 rule 4 of the Citizenship Act of 1955 has a provision to make a National Register of Citizenship or NRC. The provision is that a house to house enumeration is to be conducted to enlist the names of all the bona fide Indian citizens as it is done in case of census. But till now, barring the preparation of an NRC in respect of Assam in 1951, no national level NRC has been prepared, not even for any other state of India. But then on the pretext of detecting lakhs and lakhs of foreigners stated to have infiltrated Assam and then onwards staying in the state, the Rule 4 was amended and Rule 4A was inserted simply by way of an executive decision bypassing the Parliament. As per Constitution, such amendments are to be mandatorily vetted by the Parliament. This deliberate subversion of the constitutional mandate obviously was fraught with definite intention and insinuation. Moreover, much to the surprise of all, the directive was that the people of Assam would have to apply themselves to the authorities for inclusion of their names in the NRC whereas the common practice is to enumerate such names based on house to house survey and inspection. Further, it was made mandatory that the NRC for Assam would be prepared on the basis of two main documents, namely, the NRC of 1951 and any electoral roll prior to 25th of March, 1971. These two documents are not available in all the districts of the state. Most of the people whose names were included in the NRC of 1951 have died in the meantime. Then, how was one to prove the relationship of the present citizens with their dead ancestors? Our Party, it is pertinent to point out, categorically drew attention of the authorities towards such difficulties and impossibilities at the initial stage of preparation of the NRC. But, nobody cared to pay any heed to our suggestions. It was obvious that both the then central as well as state governments were in no mood to take up a rational exercise but were only interested to appease and satisfy the chauvinist forces like All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and others even if that meant endorsing absurd proposals and methods unheard of not only in the country but the whole world.
Tracing history a bit
To help understanding the entire gamut of the issue, it is considered necessary to trace history a bit. The undivided district of Goalpara had been historically a part of undivided Bengal during the British rule. The district then comprised the present carved out districts of Dhubri, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Baksha, and some other adjoining area. It was only in 1912 that the undivided district of Goalpara along with the district of Sylhet were included in Assam and put under the administrative control of a Chief Commissioner with its headquarter in Shillong. During this period, a large number of poor landless peasants belonging to the Muslim community from the Eastern part of the then undivided Bengal moved from one neighbouring district to the other under the jurisdiction of the same administrative set-up or even from one part to another part of the country, then British India. Strictly speaking, these inter-district or inter-state shifts or movements of the people of the same country cannot be called ‘migration’. The term ‘migration’ means “movement of people from one country to another with the intention to live permanently”. How fallacious it is to categorize such shifts and movements within the geographic boundary of the same country as migration.
Second fact which needs to be taken cognizance of is that the Zamindars (landlords) of undivided Goalpara district did encourage the diligent peasants belonging to the Muslim community to come and settle in the uncultivated lands owned by them. These Zamindars even extended material help to these poor people to settle. Why was that? Because, these poor Bengali speaking people belonging to the Muslim community were considered to be expert tillers and even capable of turning the river islands (char areas) into extremely fertile soil. So, they were heartily welcomed at that time by the common Assamese-speaking people with a spirit of amity and togetherness. That is the reason, there is large scale presence of a Bengali-speaking Muslim population, mostly engaged in cultivation, in this part of Assam. This also explains the phenomenon of preponderance of Bengali language in lower Assam districts. Sylhet district was also annexed to Assam during this period. But Sylhet later went away to East Pakistan during partition of the country. Following that, a large section of Hindu population left Sylhet during this period and shifted to neighbouring Assam. Now, the protagonists of the chauvinist movement in Assam have been branding this Bengali-speaking populace numbering between 20 and 70 lakhs as “Foreigner Bangladeshis” and seeking their deportation. Such is the undertaking of preparing a NRC for Assam through an exclusive exercise based on weird conditionalities.
Assam, as is known to all, occupies a unique position in the whole of the North East, both geographically and culturally. After independence, process of unification among various communities of people had set in. But, because of spurt in aggressive chauvinism and the forcible imposition of Assamese language and culture on the people of other smaller communities, the later revolted and chose to break away from bigger Assam. As a sequel to that, separate states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya were carved out of greater Assam. Not only that, as a result of over-emphasis on acceptance of Assamese language and culture, some of the smaller tribes and communities of Assam who had earlier identified themselves as Assamese, are now refusing to call themselves as Assamese and seeking separate identities. It may be mentioned in this context that when the Assam Government tried to forcibly impose the Assamese language in the Barak Valley, a predominantly Bengali speaking area, in 1961, a vehement protest surged forth in the entire valley. The police opened fire upon the protesters at the Silchar railway station in which 11 persons lost their lives. Ultimately, the Assam Government had to withdraw the order and retain Bengali as the official language of the Barak Valley region.
The background of socio-political and cultural situation in Assam
Assam is called a miniature India. From this point of view, the socio-economic and politico-cultural situation of the state is not very different from that of the rest of the country. Let us briefly peep into the background of the whole country.
It is an irony that Indian freedom struggle grew at a time when world capitalism had already turned moribund and reactionary. That is why the Indian national bourgeoisie, while in the vortex of the freedom struggle, albeit with its own agenda and objective, compromised with religious ideas and medieval feudal divisive thoughts. So, the imperative task of democratization of the society remained unfulfilled and hence various divides centring on religion, caste, language, ethnicity, region continued to prevail in the Indian society in the form of Hindu- Muslim feeling, upper caste-lower caste feeling, Assamese-Bengali feeling, tribal-non-tribal feeling etc.. Comrade Shibdas Ghosh, Founder General Secretary of SUCI (C) and one of the foremost Marxist thinkers of the era, had said in lucid language: “Although politically India became an Independent nation, culturally it remained divided.” It is pertinent to note here that had there been a strong and united movement for independence based on higher ethics and culture, perhaps India would not have been divided artificially. Not only that; even after independence, the Indian bourgeoisie who rode to power did not make any attempt to weaken and uproot the divisive forces and thoughts from the society. Rather, it has in its own narrow sectarian class interest gone on fanning up and pandering to all forms of communalism, casteism, parochialism, regionalism, chauvinism and such other pernicious divisive ideas. Moreover, it had pursued and has still been pursuing a vile objective of embroiling the toiling masses in internecine feuds and clashes by pitting the Hindus against the Muslims, the Assamese-speaking people against the Bengali-speaking people, the Biharis against the Maharashtrians, so called upper-caste people against the so called lower caste people or dalits and so forth. The more divided are the oppressed people, the more assured is the ruling bourgeoisie in prolonging its ruthlessly oppressive rule without resistance. It is pertinent to mention here that the parties like the CPI, CPI (M) and RCPI who call themselves leftists and had once some influence on the masses in Assam, not just failed to understand the threat posed by surging chauvinism, they themselves fell prey to it and even tied knot with these forces for making electoral gains.
Economic-political situation of Assam is no different to rest of India
The growing misery and penury, the mounting problems of unemployment, price rise, lack of education and healthcare, the predicament of the peasants, lack of industrialization, closure of industries, increasing job loss, rising corruption and cultural degradation which are plaguing capitalist India have not spared Assam also. In spite of easy availability of raw-materials and cheap labour force, no major industry except three oil refineries was set up in Assam during the last 70 years after independence. Three paper mills were established at Jogighopa, Jagiroad and Panchgram as a result of peoples’ movement. But, shutters are downed in all three now. Even the lone matchbox-factory set up in Dhubri during the British period has also been closed. Similarly, the tea-gardens set up during the British time are being closed down and the labourers thrown out of jobs. Prior to independence and even immediately after the independence of the country, the standard of living of the people of Assam was to some extent higher than that of the people in some other states. But today, problems of unemployment and lack of means of earning livelihood has reached such a stage that bare survival has become difficult for the common man. Landless peasants were very rare in Assam before independence. But their number is increasing now-a-days at an alarming rate. Peasants cannot cultivate their fields for lack of capital. Agricultural production is going down fast. Assam, which once was a surplus state in crop production, has now to import paddy or rice from other states. All these problems are bred by the decadent moribund capitalist system. But with incessant fomenting of divisive thoughts and persistent attempts to throw spanner in people’s unity and solidarity, the very socio-political environment is so polluted as to become utterly non-conducive towards building up united democratic movement to somewhat mitigate the burning problems of poverty, unemployment, price-rise and growing corruption. On the other hand, taking advantage of the growing discontent among the people, the chauvinist and parochial forces of Assam are continuously propagating that the people of Assam are suffering only because of the problem of influx from other states of India as well foreign lands.
False claim of chauvinist propaganda
Even if we simply focus on the factual side of alleged influx from other states and foreign countries, the claim of the chauvinist forces would fall flat. According to the census of 1911 and 1921, the numbers of Assamese-speaking people were 15 lakhs and 17 lakhs respectively. That was less than 50 per cent of the total population of the state. Even the census of 1931 showed that only 31.4 per cent people were Assamese-speaking. In this context, we would like to refer to the observation made by Shri R. B. Vaghaiwalla, the Superintendent of Census operation, Assam in 1951. He noted, “There is a striking increase in the percentage of people who speak Assamese in 1951 (56.7%) over those of 1931 which was only 31.4 percent, while with the solitary exception of Assamese, every single language group in Assam shows a decline in the percentage of people speaking the same. All this decline has to swell the percentage of people speaking Assamese in 1951. The figures do not fail to reflect the aggressive linguistic nationalism now prevailing in Assam, coupled with the desire of many persons among Muslim as well as tea garden labourer immigrants to adopt Assamese as their mother tongue in the state of their adoption.”
But in spite of the liberal attitude of some prominent personalities and intellectuals of Assamese Society, the attitude and mentality of some other section of learned persons and politicians was just opposite in this respect. The Gopinath Bordoloi government undertook a merciless eviction drive against the Muslim farmers in different areas of lower Assam in the month of May, 1946. Such types of eviction drives of the poor peasants who were very much genuine Indian citizens continued even after independence and lakhs of Muslim peasants were compelled to leave Assam. Within three years after independence, ‘The Immigration (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, was adopted and implemented by the Bordoloi Government. Lakhs of Muslim people who were genuine Indian citizens, were driven out by twisting and abusing the Act. It is worth noting in this regard that when the whole of India was gripped by severe communal riots between the Hindus and the Muslims at the time of independence in 1947 an atmosphere of peace and harmony prevailed in Assam because of ideological campaign by some of the nationalist leaders. But, there was an eruption of Hindu-Muslim riot in lower Assam in the month of March 1950, presumably because of a kind of retaliatory mentality following persecution of the Hindus in some districts of the then East Pakistan.
With enactment of Acts like “The Immigration (Expulsion) Act, 1950, “The prevention of Infiltration by Pakistani Nationals into India” and so forth, a handle was provided for harassing genuine Indian citizens belonging to religious minority community. Things worsened to such an extent that if anyone belonging to the Muslim community was seen anywhere – on the roads, in the market, at railway stations—he or she was subjected to harassment by the police on the pretext of being doubted as an infiltrator Pakistani national. The police used to pick up people from their beds at night and transport them to the border areas the next morning for forced deportation.
The Assam Agitation – 1979-’85
There was no respite for the Bengali-speaking Muslim community from such persecution and forced deportation in the following years as well. But, in the closing years of 1970, certain developments added new dimension to this problem. In 1978, Shri Golap Barbora set up a Janata Party government by defeating the Congress. This was the first non-Congress government in Assam after independence. Ousted from power, the Congress was in search of a suitable issue to topple the Barbora Government. And it immediately found an issue. The Congress leaders knew that they would not be able to get support of the people if they parroted the oft-repeated slogan of influx of ‘outsiders’. So, they cunningly replaced the term ‘outsiders’ by ‘infiltrators’ and began raising hullabaloo about alleged illegal infiltration of lakhs of Bangladeshi nationals through the border.
In March, 1979, following sudden demise of the sitting MP of Mangaldoi Constituency, a bye-election was declared. At that time, the Border Security Police came out with a declaration that the voters’ list of the constituency contained the names of 47,658 Bangladeshi nationals. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) came out promptly with the demand that the bye-election would not be held unless the names of the Bangladeshis were dropped from the voters’ list. All the rabid communal, parochial, racial, separatist forces joined the bandwagon and alleged that with continuous illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals, the very existence of Assamese-speaking people was at stake. With the bourgeois press in tow, the AASSU and AAGSP agitators craftily camouflaged their chauvinist slogan with a patriotic cloak so that it had appeal to the common people back-broken by growing problems of life and livelihood. They even went on saying that as the international border between India and Bangladesh was open, thousands of infiltrators were entering Assam every day with the ulterior motive to annex Assam to Bangladesh and create a “Greater Bengal”. They incited sectarian passion among the poor oppressed Assamese-speaking people by saying that soon they would be out-numbered by the infiltrating foreigners, lose their unique identity, lose their culture, their language and ultimately even their political power. In the absence of a powerful united democratic movement of the toiling people of Assam rising above all divides and sharing a common cause against ruling capitalism, the common enemy and root of all evils as well as a conducive ideological campaign, the common Assamese-speaking people were swayed by the sectarian chauvinist slogans and the atmosphere was further surcharged with communal-parochial-chauvinist tensions.
Ideological campaign unleashed by our Party
Our Party singlehandedly, launched an ideological campaign with all its might to rebut all such pernicious ideas and deceptions and unravel the truth before the suffering people particularly the misdirected Assamese-speaking populace. We have been continuing that struggle braving all odds even today. Going deep into the matter, our Party showed that a capitalist country like ours is a class-divided society. The divide is not between the Assamese and Bengalis or the Hindus and the Muslims. The divide is between a handful of super-rich and multitudes of oppressed impoverished irrespective of language, religion, caste, creed or race. With passage of time, the rich is becoming richer and the poor poorer. The 1% rich is thriving on more and more wretchedness of the poor. The interests of the exploiters and exploited are not same but diametrically opposite. Therefore, all questions and issues must be approached with this vital fact in mind. We firmly told the people of Assam to realize that the utterly false mischievous campaign about incessant influx of foreign nationals and consequent posing threat of identity crisis to the native Assamese people is being deliberately undertaken by the vested interest with a view to precipitating worst form of communalism, separatism and even secessionism and thereby shifting their attention from the real cause of their poverty and misery and engaging them in fratricidal conflicts and bloodbaths. The very propaganda of the Assamese-speaking people losing political power is another hoax since the question of political power is inextricably linked with the question of state power which is now held by the ruling Indian monopolists. We also added that nowhere in history one would find that common toiling people had acted like invaders, never imposed their language and their culture upon other section of toiling people, never tried to outnumber any other section of toiling people. Invasion, forcible occupation of foreign lands, compelling common people to submit to them, subjugating common masses to their dictates had all been done by the kings and monarchs. Today, it is the imperialist-capitalist sharks who are doing all such felonious things. On the other hand, common toiling masses have always lived together, worked together, moved shoulder to shoulder, helped each other, learnt from each other and shared each other’s joys and sorrows. This is true even today. Common people never hate each other, never possess any ill-feeling about any fellow member of the society. It is the oppressive rulers, the exploiting ruling class and their servitors who artificially foster such pernicious thoughts and malice among the common people to drive wedge of disunity and blunt rational thought process. This, in brief, has been the crux of our ideological campaign and it did create tremendous impact among the truth-loving saner section of the people, and many of the ordinary toiling masses who were hitherto led into the blind alley of rotten thoughts have been on the way back to right track of thinking.
Our concrete suggestion in regard to NRC
Based on such correct realization of socio-political reality and taking into cognizance the grim objective situation propelled by a prevailing apprehension about losing identity and language by the common Assamese-speaking people, our Party in 1980 came with a four point formulae which may be enunciated as below:-
1) We had suggested that without affecting the rights of the linguistic minorities to their respective languages, the status of Assamese language as the State Language of Assam should be maintained at all costs without relating it in any way to the change of population in the state. Special Resolution might be adopted or Acts might be passed in the Parliament to ensure the present status of Assamese as the State language.
2) Gauging the sensitivity and sentiments of the people of Assam regarding the issue of continuous and unabated entry of foreign nationals, we had suggested that fool-proof measures should be taken at the international borders to stop any probable clandestine entry of illegal foreigners in large numbers. The intelligence machinery should be capable enough to catch hold of any undesirable infiltrator right at the border and send him to the Tribunals for fair trial.
3) Thirdly, we had also suggested that a comprehensive package plan should be adopted by the government for speedy economic and industrial development of Assam.
4) 25 March, 1971, should be accepted as the cut-off date for detection of foreign nationals and the process of detection should be started observing all relevant national and international norms, laws and traditions. Those who had come to India prior to the cut-off date should be regarded as bona fide Indian citizens and those who have come to India after the date may be deported to their respective countries observing international laws and traditions.
Both Assamese and non-Assamese people had wholeheartedly welcomed the four-point formula of our Party. We still want to assert firmly that the problem of foreign nationals in Assam may be solved in this way and this way only. Instead of following this path, if lakhs and lakhs of genuine Indian citizens are forcibly declared ‘foreigners’ by striking out their names from the voters’ lists or from the NRC, the problem would not be resolved. Rather, through such fascistic measures, the division among the people of the state would be further widened, communalism would take an acute form and peace and harmony among the majority and minority communities would be seriously disturbed.
Our apprehension proved to be correct. The year 1983 was a black period in the history of Assam. Hordes of armed rioters surrounded many villages of Assam, inhabited mostly by the religious minorities and brought down murderous attacks on them. In many places of the state, particularly in Nellie, Chalkhowa, Mukalmoa and Gohopur, people belonging to minority communities were mercilessly killed. In those horrible days, nobody was allowed to express a voice of dissent with the agitators. A fascist atmosphere prevailed in the state. But such genocide and barbarity of 1983 was strongly denounced by one all both within and outside the country. Faced with this all round indignation, the Government of India promulgated an ‘Illegal Migrant (Determination Tribunal) Act (IMDT Act) which, at least outwardly, provided certain safeguards against worst form of harassment and persecution of the genuine Indian citizens belonging to religious and linguistic minority community. Later on, the arch Hindu communal RSS-BJP in league with the chauvinist outfits raised a hue and cry against the Act arraying all their deceptive tools and techniques. It is regretted that there was no effective countering of this motivated act by the so called opposition. Finally, the RSS-BJP and their associates succeeded in getting the IMDT Act annulled by the Supreme Court.
It may be mentioned in this context that as a result of the intensive class-based ideological campaign launched by our Party, we had been successful, to a great extent, in persuading the aggrieved young people in the minority-dominated areas of the state not to pursue the path of fundamentalism and terrorism in the face of provocations by the chauvinist and communal forces.
The Seven-Party Combination and AGP rule
To face the explosive situation created in the state by the Assam Movement, a joint platform of Congress (S), Lok Dal, PDP, SUCI (C), CPI, CPI (M) and RCPI was built up under the initiative of our Party. This joint initiative helped a lot to ease the tension. Under pressure of this seven party combination, 1971 was accepted as cut off year to detect foreign nationals. Thereafter, an accord known as the ‘Assam Accord’ was signed among the Central Government, the State Government and the AASU on 15 August, 1985. The accord accepted 25 March, 1971, as the cut-off date for detection of foreigners in Assam. Subsequently, the AASU leadership formed a regional political Party by the name Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), and it was apparent that there was some kind of understanding with the then Congress government about who would be saddled in power in the state. The AGP fought the election, won it and ruled the state alternately for 10 years. AGP is now sharing power in alliance with the ruling BJP in the state.
During their two tenures in the office, the AGP government desperately tried to ‘locate’ the lakhs and lakhs of foreigners they once cried hoarse about and in course of that subjected the poor people of the minority communities to repeated hearings for proving their credential as bona fide Indians. But even after all these exercises, the AGP government could not find out the ‘lakhs of foreigners’ they had talked about. During its second term in the office in 1997, it adopted on other trick. It arbitrarily marked 3.7 lakhs of genuine Indian citizens belonging to religious and linguistic minority people as ‘D’ voters – ‘D’ meaning Doubtful – and robbed them of their voting right. Initially, it was declared that all these ‘Doubtful’ cases would be verified within 6 months and that the names of the “D” voters would be included in the electoral rolls on merit. However, more than 20 years have passed and still this verification has not been done. As a result, the voting right of these people stands suspended. It is strange that 97% of these so called “D’ voters who preferred to contest their citizenship at higher courts, were proved to be genuine Indian citizens. This shows that the ‘D’ voters were marked randomly without following due procedure of investigation prescribed by law. At present, there are about 2.5 lakhs of ‘D’ voters in the state. Some of them were referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunals without their knowledge. So, they could not appear before the Tribunal and hence were declared ‘foreigners’ ex-parte. These people have been sent to detention camps.
It needs to be stated that when their efforts to brand several lakhs of genuine citizens belonging to religious and linguistic minorities did not succeed, the chauvinist forces raised the demand for preparation of NRC so that through this they could achieve their objective. It is pertinent to mention here that the names of these ‘D’ voters would not be included in the on-going NRC. They are even debarred from applying for regularization until and unless they are declared as bona fide Indian Citizens by competent Tribunals or Courts. The names of about 4,500 persons belonging to religious and linguistic minority people which were included in the first draft of the NRC after due verification of Legacy Data, has been dropped subsequently on the ground that they have been declared as ex-parte foreigners by the Tribunals.
Maintain unity of toiling masses, foil heinous conspiracy of the vested interest
This is the explosive situation that is prevailing in Assam centring round the preparation of NRC. In the background of worst form of harassment, deprivation of more than 4 lakhs genuine Indian citizens belonging to religious and linguistic minority of their voting rights, branding them as ‘D’ or doubtful voters for long 20 years, declaring many of them as foreign nationals through ex-parte judgement and sending many of them to the so called ‘detention camp’ which are like infamous concentration camps of the Hitlerite regime, forcibly deporting many of them to Bangladesh at dead of night — all these have made genuine Indian citizens belonging to religious and linguistic commu-nities, spend sleepless nights. They are all haunted by a deep-seated fear of losing their citizenship. The whole process has started yielding to the highly unjust pressure of chauvinist RSS, BJP and other communal forces. The Registrar General of India who has been constitutionally entrusted with the task has very unusually been made powerless. Very unusually the Supreme Court is steering the whole exercise. Again the manner in which the Supreme Court is looking after the entire process does not seem to be effectively addressing the concern of the minorities. Hence the situation is very tense. Deep apprehension is becoming deeper. Under the circumstances, we are urging upon all sections of the toiling common people to shun the path of divisiveness, remain firmly united to foil the conspiracy to take away the citizenship of lakhs and lakhs of genuine Indian citizens.