Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal speaks to the media regarding the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), in Guwahati (Source: PTI)

India Puts Millions at Risk of Deportation

(Bloomberg) -- Security has been tightened across India’s northeastern state of Assam as millions discovered they were at risk of deportation following the release of the federal government’s controversial citizens list.

About four million people saw their names were missing from the final draft of the list that was published by the Registrar General of India on Monday.

Activists say the process may lead to deportation of ethnic minorities -- mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims -- to Bangladesh. Most are from families who fled what’s now Bangladesh during its violent partition from Pakistan in 1971. They settled in Assam, which borders the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the north and Bangladesh to the south and is home to several rebel groups.

Yet India has no repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, said Nanigopal Mahanta, head of the political science department at Gauhati University in Assam, noting the message from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was clear.

"These people will become stateless -- their future remains hanging," Mahanta said. "The BJP has no ambivalence at all, they want to keep the Bengali Hindus and exclude the Muslims."

‘Sensitive Issue’

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said those excluded will be given chance to make claims and objections. “This is a very sensitive issue and it should not be politicized,” said Singh.

The legally-binding list is being updated for the first time since 1951 to recognize Indian citizens living in Assam and identify those not legally living in the state. Those who can’t prove that they came to Assam before March 25 1971 will be deemed illegal migrants.

Fearing a backlash, federal and state security forces have been deployed in large numbers across Assam "to maintain law and order,” in sensitive areas, Deepak Kumar, an inspector general of police, said over phone.

"The process has been completely transparent, fair, objective and meticulously carried out," Registrar General of India, Sailesh, who goes by one name, said in a televised press conference in Guwahati.

About 29 million people have been found eligible for inclusion in the citizenship document from around 33 million applicants, he said.

“No genuine Indian citizen will be devoid of their citizenship rights,” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, said in a tweet. “I also urge people not to make any communal statements and remain watchful against falling prey to rumors.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.