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Opening Pandora's box

Opening Pandoras box

After the final draft of was released on Monday, which included the names of 2.89 crore people out of Assam's total population of 3.89 crore, the opposition parties including Trinamool Congress, Congress, CPM and Samajwadi Party launched a protested in Parliament, saying the list puts human rights and democratic rights of people at stake. Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hit out at the ruling BJP and accused it of trying to identify and isolate people who don't vote for the party. "They are turning Indian people into refugees in their own country," she said at a press meet in Kolkata before leaving for Delhi on Monday. She said she would try to meet Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the subject. "I am sending a team of party MPs to Assam and if necessary, I will go there too," she said. The NRC is an exercise to prepare the list of legitimate Indian citizens in Assam, which was first undertaken in 1951. Following the large-scale influx of Bangladeshi refugees in the 1960s and the 70s, indigenous Assamese groups started an agitation demanding that the NRC should be updated and those who have come illegally to India should be deported. The issue assumed political significance and became an important election plank in the state. After the BJP government came into power in the state in 2016, the task of updating the NRC began and the Supreme Court has been monitoring its progress. As the issue was politically sensitive, various political parties took a keen interest in the matter. BJP itself has been demanding the deportation of illegal Bangladeshi refugees for a long time. Now that it is ruling the state, the party was expected to expedite the preparation of NRC. In the final draft, NRC has excluded 40 lakh people from the list. Now, these people will have to prove that they are the citizens of the country or else face deportation and other legal consequences, including the expulsion of names from the voters' list. As proving one's citizenship can be a difficult call for many who have not prepared their papers in time or kept them in order, the issue has generated panic among the people, especially those whose names do not figure in the latest NRC. Assam has been home to many people from West Bengal and Bihar among other states, the issue has touched the nerve of people from other states settled in Assam. West Bengal being a neighbouring state has a large number of people settled in the state for decades. Like people from other states, they have set up businesses and taken employment in the government and private sectors. All these people are genuinely panicked that their names may not figure in the revised NRC. At any rate, the names of at least 40 lakh people are missing from the NRC. As pointed out by West Bengal CM, these people are being made refugees in their own country. This is a sad deal for the people who have chosen to live in Assam and make it their home. Referring to the Muslims, especially those from Bangladesh, the Trinamool Chief has pointed to a political conspiracy on behalf of BJP to leave the names out of the list who have not been voting for the saffron party. She has said that she would send her MPs to Assam and can herself go there to assess the situation and lend her support to the aggrieved people. If the issue of NRC is not sorted out peacefully, a showdown between BJP which rules most of the northeastern states and Trinamool which is in power in West Bengal is imminent. For most of the northeastern region, West Bengal is the nearest big market for trade and employment. A large number of people from the northeast are settled in West Bengal and any disturbance in the social fabric in the northeast may have an echo in West Bengal as well. Same is true about Bihar from where businessmen and migrant workers are present in Assam in a significant proportion. NRC in itself is not a bad idea as far as it goes on to list out the legitimate citizens of the country. But it must not become a political tool to penalise some section of the people to consolidate a vote bank in favour of any political party. It should also try to alleviate the fear and panic from the minds of the people, both indigenous and migrant population. Taking a cue from the diverse cultural and demographic character of the country, NRC should be inclusive and recognise the right of everyone who wants to live in the state and contribute to its development. If the government fails to act with wisdom, it will only open the proverbial Pandora's box and there would be turmoil and unrest in many parts of the country.

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