‘As­sam is for In­di­ans’

In­ter­view with Sa­mu­j­jal Bhat­tachar­jya, chief ad­viser of AASU.

FrontLine - - IMMIGRATION ISSUES - BY SUHRID SANKAR CHAT­TOPAD­HYAY

For sev­eral decades, All As­sam Stu­dents Union (AASU) has been at the fore­front of the move­ment in As­sam de­mand­ing the ouster of il­le­gal for­eign im­mi­grants. The re­lease of the fi­nal draft of the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Cit­i­zens (NRC) in the State is seen as the cul­mi­na­tion of AASU’S pro­longed and sus­tained move­ment.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Front­line, Sa­mu­j­jal Bhat­tachar­jya, Chief Ad­viser to AASU and ad­viser to North East Stu­dents’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NESO), spoke on what lies ahead and the im­por­tance of the NRC. Ex­cerpts:

It has been a long strug­gle for AASU to reach this point. Are you happy with the fi­nal draft of the NRC?

Our move­ment has stretched over 38 years. First, there was the his­toric As­sam Move­ment, and then the As­sam Ac­cord was signed. Af­ter such a pro­longed move­ment, the com­mit­ment that was given in the As­sam Ac­cord has not been im­ple­mented. The Ac­cord made it very clear that the three “D”s—de­tec­tion, dele­tion and de­por­ta­tion—would be im­ple­mented. But there has been no de­tec­tion, no dele­tion, and no de­por­ta­tion. The 268-kilo­me­tre Indo-bangladesh bor­der [in As­sam] re­mains por­ous. It is an in­ex­cus­able crime on the part of the gov­ern­ments of In­dia and As­sam to not seal this bor­der, as along with il­le­gal im­mi­grants, je­hadis and fun­da­men­tal­ists are also en­ter­ing, as the north-east is the tran­sit route for them. There is a com­mit­ment in the As­sam Ac­cord to safe­guard the in­ter­ests of the in­dige­nous peo­ple of As­sam, but that has not been hap­pen­ing. Tribal belts and blocks, gov­ern­ment blocks, etc., have all been en­croached upon by il­le­gal Bangladeshi set­tlers. So, for the last three decades, all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties that have been in power at the Cen­tre or in the State have done noth­ing to ad­dress this prob­lem se­ri­ously.

In As­sam we had an NRC in 1951. How­ever, it was not up­dated, mainly be­cause po­lit­i­cal par­ties were in­ter­ested in pro­tect­ing their vote banks. Since the 1980s, we have been rais­ing the is­sue of the NRC. We raised it when the Prime Min­ster in­vited AASU for the first round of talks; then af­ter the sign­ing of the As­sam Ac­cord, we sub­mit­ted our modal­i­ties; then there was of­fi­cial­level tri­par­tite talk; fol­low­ing that, another round of talks at the prime min­is­te­rial level in 2005, where it was de­cided to up­grade the NRC. Another round of talks, this time at the Home Sec­re­tary level, in 2010, where it was de­cided to have pi­lot projects. Forms were fi­nalised, but it was a very slow process. A Group of Min­is­ters was also formed to dis­cuss the modal­i­ties with us. AASU and 28 eth­nic par­ties had a meet­ing with the gov­ern­ment to fi­nalise the forms. But af­ter that, again, mat­ters moved very slowly. Ul­ti­mately a case was filed in the Supreme Court, and things have fi­nally started mov­ing.

It [the NRC] is a le­gal and trans­par­ent process that is be­ing mon­i­tored by the Supreme Court. Now the draft is out, but we need the com­plete NRC to be out as well, be­cause af­ter that there will be claims and ob­jec­tions. But as all of it is tak­ing place through a pro­ce­dure mon­i­tored by the Supreme Court, we wel­come it and we ac­cept it. How­ever, I want to point out that the UPA [United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance] gov­ern­ment had said that there were 1.20 crore il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh through­out In­dia—out of them, 57 lakh were in West Ben­gal and 50 lakh in As­sam. The present gov­ern­ment has said there are two crore [il­le­gal im­mi­grants] in the coun­try. Now why 40 lakh, and not 50 lakh, have been left out in the NRC fi­nal draft? But we have full faith in the Supreme Court. The NRC is a bold step in the di­rec­tion of find­ing a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to the for­eign na­tional prob­lem in As­sam.

I would also like to say that right now, it [the NRC] is still a draft and some In­di­ans’ and in­dige­nous peo­ple’s names have also not ap­peared; but there is a pro­ce­dure, and that can be rec­ti­fied. If they [gen­uine In­di­ans] face any prob­lem, we will ex­tend our full sup­port to them. But not a sin­gle name of a Bangladeshi who has come to In­dia af­ter 1971 should ap­pear on the fi­nal NRC.

What is go­ing to hap­pen af­ter the fi­nal NRC is pub­lished?

The so­lu­tion lies in the As­sam Ac­cord. Seal­ing the 268-km of the Indo-bangladesh bor­der should be taken up on a war foot­ing. The grant­ing of con­sti­tu­tional safe­guard to the in­dige­nous peo­ple of As­sam as per the As­sam Ac­cord is of great ne­ces­sity. There has to be pro­tec­tion of tribal belts, blocks, for­est land and gov­ern­ment land. Most im­por­tantly, there has to be a bi­lat­eral treaty be­tween the gov­ern­ments of In­dia and Bangladesh to de­port all il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh.

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