KOLKATA: A draft updated list of citizens in Assam, which leaves out over 40 lakh people, provoked political anger today with Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee alleging that the ruling BJP wanted to identify and isolate people who don’t vote for the party.
“Many people have been identified as foreigners and they are to be sent back. There are many children and women among them,” said Mamata Banerjee, adding that she was “worried about torture” and that people had become “refugees” in their own country.
“This is divide-and-rule policy. People are being isolated… this will destroy humanity,” she said, declaring that she would take up the subject personally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I want to tell the PM — save the people, don’t isolate them.”
Assam’s National Register of Citizens or NRC has been updated for the first time since 1951 to account for illegal migration from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Releasing the updated list, officials underscored that no one would be deported or arrested as this was only a draft.
Claims and objections from those left out of the citizens’ list will be taken up from August 30 to September 28. “No genuine Indian citizen should have any fear,” said Registrar General of India, Sailesh.
But opposition parties see the recount as a move to target Assam’s Muslim population on the pretext of weeding out Bangladeshi migrants.
“Such a huge step is being taken. Shouldn’t the government have conversation with Bengal?” Ms Banerjee said.
“Every state has people staying from other states, like Gujarat and Maharashtra.”
Ms Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, the Congress, CPM and Samajwadi party protested in parliament, saying the list puts “human rights and democratic rights” of people at stake.
“Some people are unnecessarily trying to create an atmosphere of fear… This is a draft and not the final list,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said.
Urging parties not to “create panic”, the home minister said: “It is a sensitive issue and should not be politicised unnecessarily.”
A home ministry official, Satyendra Garg, said that no one would be deported or arrested based on today’s list, which was only a draft.
Of 3.29 crore people who had applied for their names to be included, 2.89 crore have made it to the revised citizens’ list. The rest face the prospect of being declared illegal and sent out unless they can satisfy the doubts of the authorities.
It is not clear whether these 40 lakh will be eligible to vote in next year’s national election. “The Election Commission will decide,” said an official.
The register counts only those as Assam citizens who can prove that they were living in the state on or before March 21, 1971.
The list has been updated to include descendants of those in the state in 1951 — when the first census took place — or those who were in Assam’s electoral rolls as of March 24, 1971.