‘Assam is for Indians’
Interview with Samujjal Bhattacharjya, chief adviser of AASU.
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.