With Bangladesh out of the picture, the government should clarify its post-NRC plans
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s statement in Dhaka on Tuesday that the soon-to-be-published National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is India’s internal matter lets Bangladesh off the hook as far as a possible return of those who don’t find their names in the NRC is concerned. The Supreme Court has repeatedly asked the Centre to ascertain from Bangladesh whether it would accept those persons, who might be declared foreigners, after the NRC exercise is completed in Assam. In fact, the Supreme Court has had occasion to say that the Centre had not engaged Bangladesh in a substantive dialogue on the issue. By stating that the NRC is India’s internal matter, the External Affairs Minister has conceded to Bangladesh a point that Dhaka has repeatedly made — that the 40 lakh-odd people who don’t figure in the draft NRC lists are not its citizens and it is not responsible for them. In fact, Bangladesh has never accepted that any of its citizens ever illegally entered Indian territory. Other than the cryptic remark about the NRC being an internal matter for India, The Daily Star newspaper quoted the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen as saying that Mr. Jaishankar had conveyed to him not to worry about the NRC issue. Bangladesh could well be satisfied with New Delhi’s position on the NRC, but Indians are none the wiser about what the Centre plans to do with the lakhs of people — Hindus and Muslims — who are likely to find themselves missing from the Register when it is finally published on August 31.
The BJP has long promised that it will deport all illegally resident Bangladeshis from Assam and the rest of India, a view that it has articulated time and again over the years. But this position doesn’t tally with what Mr. Jaishankar told his Bangladeshi counterpart. The party has simultaneously promised that all non-Muslims, whose names don’t figure in the NRC, will be given citizenship rights by amending the law. Other than this, there is no clarity on what the government plans to do with the lakhs of people likely to be rendered stateless after the NRC exercise is completed. Though these persons would have access to foreigners’ tribunals and the courts of the country, the Centre and the Supreme Court should have had a plan in place about how they will deal with the impending humanitarian crisis in Assam. Many of the affected are abjectly poor people, with little or no understanding of how the NRC process works, and entered this country in the hope of a better future for themselves and their children. It is the duty of the Government of India and the Supreme Court to ensure that these individuals are treated with dignity. The government would also do well to treat all communities who don’t figure in the NRC in a non-discriminatory manner.