At the moment, a crisis is clearly looming with no sign of a solution on the horizon
The publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) by the Indian state of Assam on December 31 will pose a big challenge to the country’s relationship with Bangladesh, political observers have warned.
Once completed, the NRC will provide a definitive list of the legal citizens of Assam, and therefore of India, with all those left out likely to be identified as so-called “illegal intruders” from Bangladesh.
It is unclear what Dhaka will do if Delhi demands Bangladesh take back the several hundred thousand Bangali Muslims who reside in the state.
At the moment, a crisis is clearly looming with no sign of a solution on the horizon.
Various groups and communities have long been running political campaigns against the “Bangladeshi intruders”.
The influential All Assam Students Union (AASU) has been claiming that local Assamese are gradually becoming cornered because of Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants. They say the “intruders” are outnumbering the locals in many areas.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power in Assam for the first time, has openly declared its position against “illegal Bangladeshis”. However, this term is only applicable to Muslims. The door is always open for Bangladeshi Hindus.
According to the Hindustan Times, the names left out of the list will be included in the final draft if they are able to prove links to family members who were listed in either the 1951 NRC or subsequent electoral rolls up to March 25, 1971.
Currently, the Indian Supreme Court is monitoring the entire process and will continue to do so until the final draft is released.
However, there have been controversies over the process to identify “illegal Bangladeshis”. Over the years, the issue of intrusion by Bangladeshi citizens has become a contentious political issue in the northeastern Indian state.
There are fears that Bangla-speaking Muslims will be branded intruders and have their rights to live in the state rescinded. They may be forced to live in detention camps along the border where several thousand suspected “foreigners” (Bangladeshis) have already been kept.
Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, a senior fellow at Delhi think-tank Observer Research Foundation, said hundreds of thousands of people would not be able to prove their citizenship in Assam.
She warned that if the number of detainees swells to hundreds of thousands at these camps, the problem could even turn into a diplomatic crisis if Bangladesh does not move to repatriate its nationals.
“As far as I know, Bangladesh is not ready to take back any of them,” she said.
She pointed out that there had been no formal discussion between Delhi and Dhaka about preparing the NRC, let alone repatriating “illegal Bangladeshis”.
“This is why this issue is comparable to a ‘time bomb’ in the two countries’ bilateral relationship,” Joyeeta said.
This fear is not unfounded. The first NRC draft included 19 million people out of the total 32.9 million applicants. Others, particularly the Bangali Muslim residents, are facing an uncertain future.
Hafiz Rashid Choudhury, a Guwahati-based lawyer and chief adviser to the Assam citizens’ rights protection committee, said there were enough reasons to fear that hundreds of thousands of people would become stateless once the final NRC list is published within the next few months.
Various political parties and organizations will view these stateless people as nothing other than “illegal Bangladeshis” and put pressure on the central government to deport them.
Syed Muazzem Ali, the Bangladesh high commissioner to Delhi, told reporters in an informal briefing that the matter had Dhaka worried. He said he was monitoring the situation in Assam and was keeping Dhaka updated.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune