No land’s men

BJP president Amit Shah, is, of course, Honourable with a big ‘H’ on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, but perhaps less honourable with a small “h” outside the privileges of Parliament.

The latest example of his being if not a “liar”, but, shall we say, “economical with the truth”, is his claim during a Special Mention in the upper house on July 31 that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) constitutes the very “soul” of the Assam Accord of 1985. In fact, the NRC finds no mention whatsoever in the Assam Accord.

What the accord does say is that illegal immigrants will be “detected”, then “deleted” from the electoral rolls, and “expelled... in accordance with law”—the law at that time being the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983, which had then been in operation for a good two years. The accord went on to pledge that in view of “certain difficulties expressed by the All Assam Students Union/ All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad” regarding implementation of the Act, “the Government will give due consideration” to the issue. Accordingly, in 1988, thoroughgoing amendments were effected to the Act in consultation with Prafulla Mahanta’s Asom Gana Parishad government.

Illustration: Bhaskaran

There is a huge difference between the procedures prescribed under Rajiv Gandhi’s Assam Accord and the NRC. For 30 years between 1985 and 2005, suspected illegal immigrants were brought before the tribunals to determine whether they were legal residents or not. Whereas the “soul” of the Supreme Court-supervised NRC lies in turning the earlier procedure upside down and requiring every resident of Assam to prove that they are “legal” in terms of documents sought by the NRC.

Over 40 lakh human beings have failed to produce such documents. They have six months (till December) to produce documents they have not been able to trace over the past six years or more. They would finally be declared illegal, if failed to submit documents, and deported.

But, deported to where? The obvious destination would be Bangladesh (from where they allegedly migrated). But, will Bangladesh take millions of them just because an Indian quasi-judicial authority has declared them to be Bangladeshi?

And, what happens to them while India and Bangladesh quarrel over the future of these desperate, abandoned human beings? Will they be placed in prison or detention camps? Forced across the border? Or, does Modi propose to let them live in India on “sufferance”, exactly as M.S. Golwalkar in We, or Our Nationhood Defined had said Muslims would be dealt with in a Hindu rashtra?

There is a procedure under the operational guidelines issued by the West Bengal government’s task force for rescue, recovery, repatriation and reintegration, for prevention of human trafficking. It is backed by a 2015 India-Bangladesh memorandum of understanding. It might provide a template for negotiating a treaty with Bangladesh with respect to the repatriation and rehabilitation of illegal migrants, accepted as such by both countries. That could form the basis of dealing with a few thousand such stowaways, but certainly not millions of them. Surely, the BJP government should have embarked on a parallel diplomatic exercise with respect to repatriation from Assam to Bangladesh of those deemed illegal by the NRC.

Far from doing so, the prime minister has announced that as India is the “natural home” of all Hindus no Hindu Bangladeshi will be deported, while any non-Hindu (read Muslim) not in the NRC will be forced back into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Is Gandhi’s idea of India on the verge of being buried under mounds of hindutva dirt?

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.