New Delhi: While rejecting Opposition concerns over the exclusion of 40 lakh individuals in Assam from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft, BJP president Amit Shah taunted the Congress for not having the courage to push “illegal Bangladeshi migrants” out of the country.
However, the NDA government’s written answers in Rajya Sabha make it clear that if “courage” is the metric driving deportations of undocumented migrants – rather than law, due process and diplomacy – the BJP may also be found wanting.
According to official data, the last full year of the Manmohan Singh government’s tenure saw more repatriation of verified Bangladeshi citizens than the total number in the previous four years.
In March, minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju said in a written answer in the Rajya Sabha that the details of suspected “illegal migrants” were shared with the respective foreign missions through the Ministry of External Affairs. He noted that deportation of “illegal migrants” takes place only after their nationality is confirmed and travel documents are issued by the respective foreign mission.
According to figures cited in the government’s reply, 5,234 “illegal migrants” were deported to Bangladesh in 2013.
But over the next four years, the numbers came down drastically. A total of 1,822 “illegal migrants”, whose deportation was accepted by Bangladesh, were repatriated between 2014 and 2017.
After NRC, deportation politics
The data assumes significance in the wake the heightened rhetoric in recent days from BJP leaders threatening the mass deportation of lakhs of people they claim are “illegal immigrants” from Bangaldesh.
Following a Supreme Court order, the Registrar General of India released the final draft of the 1951 National Register of Citizens for Assam on July 30. It was being updated as per the citizenship cut-off date of March 25, 1971 which was agreed in the Assam Accord signed between the Centre and All Assam Students Union in 1985. As many as 40 lakh individuals living in Assam have failed to make the NRC, but most insist they are Indian citizens who simply lack the documentation to prove their claim.
The main catch in the deportation of foreign nationals is that the receiving country has to first accept their nationality and also provide travel documents. So far, Dhaka has refused to even accept that the Assam NRC exercise should be linked with Bangladesh. “This is an internal issue for Assam and India, Bangladesh has nothing to do with it,” Bangladeshi information minister Hasanul-Haque Inu told News18.
On July 30, home minister Rajnath Singh asserted that some people were trying to create an atmosphere of fear and spread misinformation.
“I want to clarify that even after the Final NRC, every person will get an opportunity to approach the Foreigners’ Tribunal. This means that even those whose names do not figure in the Final NRC will get an opportunity to approach the Tribunal. There is no question of any coercive action against anyone,” he said in a statement.
While the home minister implied that many exclusions were due to people being unable to furnish necessary documents, Amit Shah said categorically on Tuesday that names that have been excluded from Assam NRC are ‘inflitrators’ and not Indians.
“NRC is being conducted on the SC order. There are 40 lakh people (missing in the list) … Whom do you want to save? You want to save illegal Bangladeshis,” Shah said in Rajya Sabha on July 31.
Shah claimed the Congress had tried to perform this exercise over a decade ago, but stopped short due to “votebank politics”. “You did not have the courage to push Bangladeshi illegal migrants out of the country. Because for you, vote bank was more important, not the country’s security. For you, the rights of the citizens were not important.”
He asserted the NRC was aimed at stopping “illegal migration”. “The NRC is for protecting human rights, the rights of Indians. The country cannot run like this. You cannot have [illegal] people from everywhere,” Shah stated on July 31.
BJP looks beyond Assam
While Shah asserted that the NRC had identified “illegal infiltrators” in Assam, the Supreme Court-appointed coordinator for the entire exercise demurred.
“No, we can’t say all these 40 lakh are ghuspethiya (infiltrators),” NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela told the Indian Express.
Stating that it would be “too premature” to call all 40.07 lakh people “infiltrators”, he admitted that there “could be errors” in the draft NRC as it was a “manual process”.
“These people will get another chance to prove their credentials. Then we will come out with a final NRC. The NRC process will be over then. Even after that, whether a person is an illegal migrant or not is something that can be decided only by judicial scrutiny and that is through a certain set of codes, which has been established in Assam… called the Foreigners’ Tribunal,” Hajela said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Supreme Court also said that the draft NRC “cannot be the basis for any action by any authority”.