After Assam released the final list of the National Register of Citizens on August 31, pushing nearly 20 lakh people into legal limbo, more states are likely to follow suit. On September 15, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said he would soon implement a similar scheme in his state. In the northeast, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram are planning to implement their own versions of the NRC.
In Manipur, where the BJP is in power on its own, and in Nagaland, where it is a member of the ruling coalition, one of the key aims of the new initiative is to tackle illegal immigration from Myanmar. Those who are left out of the Assam NRC are also being monitored by these states. “It will be a dangerous situation for us unless we carry out the NRC immediately,” said Manipur BJP spokesperson Robin Blackie. “Our chief minister has already spoken to the Union home minister. We are sure that it will be implemented.”
Blackie said the state government was under pressure from civil society groups. “They fear that unless the NRC is done, those who are declared as foreigners in Assam will flood Manipur.” They want 1952 as the cut-off year for citizenship instead of 1971, which was used in Assam. Senior Congress leader T.N. Haokip said his party was yet to take a decision on the issue. “We are a little uncertain,” he said.
Nagaland, meanwhile, has taken the first step towards implementing the NRC by launching the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN). It aims to detect non-locals who have become residents after December 1, 1963, when Nagaland was accorded statehood and was given special status under Article 371A of the Constitution, prohibiting outsiders from buying land in the state. While the state unit of the Congress supports the RIIN, it is opposed to the NRC. Said state Congress president K. Therie, “We support the RIIN. But we would oppose it if it leads to the NRC.”
The Joint Committee on Prevention of Illegal Immigrants (JCPI), a powerful church-backed organisation, leads the demand for the RIIN and the NRC. The organisation, which represents 12 of 16 tribes in Nagaland, enjoys the backing of the Baptist Church Council of Nagaland and has a major say in decisions made by the state government.
“We will not stop Indian citizens from other states from working here or doing business in Nagaland. But we will never allow them to settle here permanently,” said Tia Longchar, secretary of the JCPI. “When more than one million people are going to be foreigners in Assam, Nagaland must be having its own NRC. Otherwise, they will flood our state.” Questions, however, remain about the RIIN targeting non-Naga Indian citizens. In response, Longchar said there were hardly any Nagas left in Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial capital. “It is completely under the control of outsiders. Several small shanties and shops have sprung up in different parts of Dimapur after the publication of the NRC on August 31,” he said. The Business Association of Nagaland estimates that Bengalis, Biharis, Marwaris and Assamese control 90 per cent business in Dimapur. “They are doing their business on leased land,” said Akum Jamir, vice president of the BAN. “Since no inner line permit (ILP) is required in Dimapur (unlike in the case of hilly areas of the state), many have acquired land there. Now the government is all set to introduce ILP for Dimapur,” said Jamir.
Deputy Chief Minister Y. Patton said the government was yet to take any decision on the NRC. “But we support the NRC in principle,” he said. Patton, a BJP leader who is in charge of the home portfolio, knows that it is not going to be easy. Although the JCPI supports the NRC, the Naga Hoho, the apex tribal organisation of the state, and major insurgent groups like the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) are opposed to the process. They believe that the NRC will hurt the prospects of greater Nagaland, an entity they hope to set up one day by merging the Naga-dominated territories of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Myanmar with Nagaland. Moreover, they disapprove the move to target Nagas from Myanmar.
“We are against the NRC. It divides people. In fact, our organisation opposes the NRC in Assam as it is meant only to attack Bengali Muslims there,” said H.K. Zhimomi, president of the Naga Hoho. “We do not want such an exercise in Nagaland as our core issues like undivided Nagaland are at stake.” But he conceded that giving shelter to Nagas from Myanmar can be tricky. “Different tribes have different cultures and traditions. They will not allow outsiders, even Nagas from Myanmar, to come and stay in their land. They can be accommodated elsewhere in the country.”
Longchar, however, said Naga influx from Myanmar would not be an issue as the successful conclusion of the Naga peace talks would lead to the establishment of greater Nagaland. “So, Nagas from Myanmar will have their own land. But non-Nagas from Myanmar will have no place here. And, for that, we need the NRC,” he said.
Longchar wanted a legislation similar to the Citizenship Amendment Bill for Nagaland to go along with the NRC. “While the national bill protected Hindus and others, in the bill for Nagaland, Nagas from Myanmar need to be protected and be given nationality,” he said. It could prove to be a major headache for the Narendra Modi government, as including Myanmar in the bill may provide an opening for the Rohingyan Muslims, a persecuted minority in Myanmar. The move could also undermine the Modi government’s efforts to drive Rohingyan refugees out of India.
Zhimomi said Myanmar was unlikely to cede territory to accommodate Naga claims. “I don’t think we have reached a stage where the boundary can be redrawn. The Myanmar government is already pressing our political workers there to sign an agreement not to merge their land with India.”
In Mizoram, the Zoramthanga government, which came to power with the active support of the church-backed Young Mizo Association, is largely supportive of the YMA’s position on implementing the NRC. The large-scale infiltration of the Bru and the Chakma communities from Bangladesh has irked the YMA. During last year’s assembly elections, after the inclusion of members of the two communities in the electoral rolls, the YMA forced the state government to replace the chief electoral officer.
YMA president Pu Vanlalruata said the Mizos did not face much of a threat from Myanmar. “But we must address the issue of Chakmas flooding the state. We want 1952 as the cut-off year for estimating the NRC. The government will then have a completely different picture on how the Bangladeshis enter Mizoram and threaten the Mizo identity.” Making 1952 the cut-off year, however, will make a large number of people stateless, creating further trouble for the Modi government. Vanlalruata, however, is in no mood to relent. “If government of India could respect the Assam Accord signed in 1985, it must also respect the Mizo Accord signed by the same prime minister, a year later. The accord says that the government cannot introduce any law in Mizoram without the approval of the Mizoram assembly.”