Lessons to learn from Assam’s NRC
IT is a matter of serious concern that the state government’s initiatives to adopt a policy for upholding interest of the people of Manipur continue to face roadblocks as is evident from objections raised by certain section of the society comprising both the indigenes and new settlers while the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been made public as a part of the Assam government’s move to chaff out the infiltrators from the natives. In many ways, the NRC was considered to embody the paranoia of a volatile state (Assam); frenetic search for origins; counting process that depended on countless fragile, fading documents where entire family histories may be wiped out by a spelling mistake, a name misheard by survey officials or page missing from an old electoral roll, etc. Sensitivity of the process could be comprehended from reports that state’s surveyors moving from door to door, asking friends and neighbours if a particular person lived in that area or whom they are related to, how long they had lived there consequently making the arduous process to become a subject of levelling charges among the political class. Regardless of the intense bickering, allegations of official apathy against the minorities and nervousness, the Assam government firmly believed in translating into action promises made to the people and went ahead with the data compilation exercise and came up with the NRC. Though Assam is already headed towards sanitising the state of illegal immigrants to possibly deport them, the Manipur People Bill 2018, which had the consent of the Hill Areas Committee is being viewed and interpreted in different ways.
Even if effectiveness of the NRC is still under cloud as the Union government is equally keen to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016; which is materialised will grant citizenship to illegal immigrants, mainly of Hindu descendants from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal, the government of Assam deserved to be appreciated for not succumbing to pressure tactics and ignoring petty complaints to complete the process, of course under specific directive of the Supreme Court. The issue of growing population of non-locals in Manipur and Assam differ on certain points but the government of Assam going ahead with its pre-poll promise to protect the indigenes is a cause of concern for Manipur as there is possibility of the detected illegal immigrants trying to sneak into Manipur. Ironically, any step taken up by the state authorities to address the problem of unrestrained entry of outsiders is being argued by few organisations whose leaders need no reminding that they, their community and lands are getting protection under special legal provisions. While organisations of Churachandpur, which was the epicentre of the anti-ILP agitation last time, have not registered any audible protest against the Manipur People Bill, 2018, it is perplexing that contents of the proposed legislation which were dissected in a series of meetings of stakeholders concerned continue to be projected by few organisations as if it lacked consensus. Though the objections against the latest Bill is unlikely to make much impact, especially in view of the draft Bill debated over between the government officials and representatives of civil society organisations and referred to the HAC, scepticism being expressed by few organisations and section of the society gives the impression that there some people who have firmly resolved that every move to provide constitutional safeguard to the indigenous communities of Manipur would be opposed.