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With the NRC, BJP Has Set All Of North East On Fire and May Send Bangladesh Back To The China-Pakistan Orbit.

The NRC and the constant rhetoric of hatred against Bangladeshis is turning that country against us.

The publication of the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens has set off a chain of events that bode ill for India’s Northeast. The region has a long and considerable history of ethnic conflict and insurgency. There have been militant outfits representing different ethnic groups that have waged war against the Indian state since the 1950s. So, to name just a few, there was the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, whose factions represented the Naga tribe, the United National Liberation Front, which represented mainly the Meiteis of Manipur, the United Liberation Front of Asom, which represented mainly the Assamese, and so on. The Bodo tribe had its own armed insurgent outfits, the Garos their own, the Dimasas and Karbis their own. In other words, every significant ethnic community had its own army. Politics both over-ground and underground was organised principally along ethno-linguistic lines.

Things had turned for the better in recent years for the region, with peace returning after many of the leaders of various insurgent outfits were unofficially handed over to India by Bangladesh. The groups almost without exception tended to operate from bases in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Nepal too was an important transit point for them. What the NRC and the constant rhetoric of hatred against Bangladeshis is doing is turning that country against us. If Bangladesh returns once again to the China-Pakistan orbit, like Nepal appears to have already done to some degree, then India will have problems in its Northeast. The problem will be further compounded if the Bengalis on this side of the border, who were patriotic Indians through all the many travails they and their ancestors suffered down the decades – including ethnic cleansing backed by extremist outfits – begin to feel that the country (for whose freedom their ancestors fought) now wants to drive them out by calling them illegal Bangladeshis. This would be a natural outcome of the NRC draft list and the political rhetoric which has followed since. There are 40 lakh people not in that list including a BJP MLA, another BJP MLA’s wife, a former chief minister of Assam, a former president’s family, several former Indian Army and Assam Rifles soldiers, and many other such, but the BJP leaders have brushed aside concerns about the list which is obviously error-ridden, simply saying all errors will be corrected, and instead promised to push the NRC on other states.

It is evident by now that the Bengali community, Hindu and Muslim, will be the most affected by the NRC. It is possible that Bengali Hindus excluded from the list may outnumber Bengali Muslims. How many of these lakhs are actually Indians and how many are Bangladeshis is highly uncertain. People in other states who are now in favour of the NRC, as they were in favour of demonetisation on day one, may lose their enthusiasm if they actually have to go through the grind. At the end of it, after several possible hassles, they may well find themselves or their relatives left out. The task is a mammoth one and it was carried out in this case by officials of the Assam state government. Considering that nothing in India gets done without paying a bribe, and citizenship is a crucial matter, the opportunities for extortion this would provide to the corrupt elements in the bureaucracy are huge. There have been cases of extortion by the police in matters related to citizenship that were brought before courts in Assam in relation to Foreigners Tribunals in the past. There are indications that some such things did occur in the exercise just concluded; for instance, a number of people who were officially declared foreigners earlier by Foreigners Tribunals are now in the NRC. Was it for free? Therefore, while on the one hand it is impossible to tell how many genuine Indians are excluded from the list, it is also equally impossible to tell how many illegal Bangladeshi migrants are in the list. The touching faith of the BJP in the NRC is therefore not supported by available evidence or reason.

This may not worry the party. As my friend Abhinandan Sekhri of Newslaundry remarked during the course of a podcast, the NRC is the new Ram Mandir. It is being built up as an issue of “India for Indians” by the propagandists, with all those excluded being labelled illegal Bangladeshis. It matters little to them if a few lakh lives are destroyed in the process, and the Northeast pushed back into turmoil, because they have other dhoklas to bake. As political moves go, it is as savvy a move as the Ram Mandir was: it provides a target, a symbol, in the form of the alleged Bangladeshi immigrant who is occupying jobs (admittedly ones that no one else seems to want to do) and tilting the demographic balance (towards Muslims). There is an anxiety among many Indian communities that they will one day be outnumbered by the Muslims. This anxiety is useful fodder for the BJP and the many ethnic chauvinist groups in Northeast India, which geographically borders Bangladesh.

The thing is, for those ethnic chauvinists that the BJP is now empowering by raising the bogey of 40 lakh foreigners in Assam, the definitions of insider and outsider are different from what the BJP and RSS and indeed any mainland Indian would like. In past years, the following communities have been targeted at different times by extremists: Bengalis, Biharis, Hindi-speakers, Nepalis, Marwaris and Sindhis. The United Liberation Front of Asom carried out targeted killings of unarmed Biharis and North Indians time and again. In the year 2000, the group had killed at least 100 Biharis. Traders, mainly from the Marwari and Sindhi communities, have been favoured targets of extortion by many of the ethnic militant groups. Bengalis and Nepalis have suffered waves of ethnic cleansing over decades. The demand for the Inner Line Permit has periodically surfaced in state after state of the Northeast. The permit is already required for Indians who want to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Manipur has seen strong agitations demanding it. Meghalaya too has had sporadic agitations seeking imposition of the Inner Line Permit regime.

There is a long tradition of fighting against “outsiders” from mainland India in the Northeast. It is odd for the BJP, of all parties, to be adding fuel to that fire – because that is what it is doing. The Khasi Students’ Union has already demanded an NRC in Meghalaya. It also stated that it wants influx from mainland India to be checked. To them the Bihari migrant is as unwelcome as the Bangladeshi. Meanwhile, in Tripura, despite demands from tribal groups, the BJP government of Biplab Deb has said there is no need for NRC in the state – an unusually intelligent statement on Biplab’s part.

However, the cynical politics of BJP demanding NRC in Bangla and opposing it in Tripura is remarkable. Truly, this is politics with no morals or ethics, no concern for ordinary human lives, or the nation, directed only towards victory at any cost. It is the morality of evil that the great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, taught us to fight. Ravana came to abduct Sita disguised as a sadhu. Even today, many a rapist and murderer hides himself in similar guise.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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