Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi (Photo: Press Trust of India)

Tarun Gogoi Blames ‘Faulty’ NRC List On BJP’s ‘Divisive Politics’

Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is proud to take credit for the National Register for Citizens, a list intended to weed out foreigners from the state, while pinning the blame of its second draft—and the chaos it has generated—on the incumbent BJP government.

The fate of 40 lakh people hangs by a thread after they found out this week that their names were missing from the NRC’s second and final draft. The demand for the NRC arose following an influx of migrants during the India-Pakistan war of 1971 in which Bangladesh was liberated.

The veteran Congress politician who led Assam for fifteen years told BloombergQuint in an interview: “Had it been under our supervision, we’d have done it much more efficiently.” He accused the BJP of “discriminating against genuine Indian citizens and dividing the people”.

The three-time chief minister, however, admitted that even the Congress had no plan on how to deal with people excluded from the final list.

The BJP governments at the state and Centre haven’t clarified their position on the “illegal immigrants”. But Gogoi said it’s difficult to deport them to Bangladesh.

The Government of India should take up the matter with its Bangladeshi counterpart and persuade them to accept these people. It would be difficult as we don’t have an extradition treaty with Bangladesh.
Tarun Gogoi, Former Chief Minister, Assam

Watch the full interview here:

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What do you make of the second draft released by NRC which doesn’t have 40 lakh people?

This is our initiative. The way the NRC has been prepared now, it’s faulty and erroneous. There’s a lot of leakage. They’ve not done the work efficiently, doing due justice to the Indian citizens as a result of which 40 lakhs, most of whom are genuine Indian citizens, are left out. It creates a sense of insecurity among them. They’re worried about their future. The implementation part is definitely wrong. It’s because of BJP’s policy of divide and rule. They want to take political advantage by dividing the people. This divisive politics has caused damage not only to the Muslims, but also to the Hindus.  All communities have been subject to all sorts of discrimination, unnecessary harassment and uncertainty.

The process was started under your government...

I started the process but had it been under our supervision, we’d have done it much more efficiently. We wouldn’t discriminate or play politics, but they’ve done it on purpose. Implementation, which is much more important, has been done under political motivation.

But the BJP says the Supreme Court orders are being followed and they’re overlooking the process...

They’re unnecessarily blaming the Supreme Court. The court doesn’t look at the day-to-day activity. They didn’t give instructions to delete the names of genuine Indian citizens from the list. The Supreme Court only looks at the deadlines and whether if justice is being done.

What happens when people don’t make it to the final list?

It’s going to be a very big challenge. We anticipated such problems would arise. Those found to be foreigners would be made stateless. We would take up the matter with the Government of India, which in turn would take it up with their Bangladeshi counterpart and persuade them to accept these people. It would be difficult as we don’t have an extradition treaty with Bangladesh. But we would make them stateless, they wouldn’t have the right to vote.

Do you have an estimate on how many people would be found to be illegal immigrants?

According to my estimate a vast majority would come in the final list. I can’t give the exact number, but out of the 40 lakh a majority of them will find place on the list. I can say this with all emphasis if they do their work sincerely without bias.

What about those that don’t make it to the list? When this process was started did you, as Assam Chief Minister, have a plan over how would you then displace people in such large numbers?

I didn’t have a plan then too. It’s the Government of India that has to take this decision, and not that of Assam. This problem has to be solved with full co-operation from the Government of India only.

This issue has become highly politicised. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has pointed to the fact that a relative of former President Fakkhruddin Ali Ahmad hasn’t found his name on the list. She also says this is highly divisive. While Mamata is taking an aggressive step, the Congress seems to be very careful. Is this a balancing act for the Congress?

We always do a balancing act, we don’t make distinction between Hindu and Muslim, it is the BJP who is doing it. To some extent Mamata is right. Congress won’t play the politics of division. The Congress is committed to maintaining balance. We have a balanced view and have taken balanced steps all along.

Is Mamata Banerjee also playing politics with this situation because she’s taking a very strong stand, the Congress’ position is neither here nor there. Is it because the policy began with your government?

We started it, we want all genuine Indian citizens’ names should come as per the Assam accord, which was signed under the initiative of Rajiv Gandhi. Our stand is very very clear, we are not ambiguous, neither here nor there, that isn’t the case, a wrong impression has been created.

What steps should be taken ensure people don’t live in uncertainty? What should be done for the poor and the illiterate?

For a majority of the poor people, where will they get the resources? How long will they fight for and continue visiting the NRC office for submission of the claims? It’s the duty of the government to come to their help, provide assistance to the genuine Indian citizens so they are thrown into uncertainty. This is also a fundamental right of the Indian citizens derived from the constitution. The NRC authority doesn’t have the right to violate my fundamental rights. Nobody has given powers to violate the fundamental rights or right to live.

Is the migration issue exaggerated? Has this got something to do with politics of Assam?

This is true. The issue is highly exaggerated. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accused me of sheltering illegal immigrants. The issue has been political all along. A vast majority of the 40-lakh people are genuine Indian citizens. Their names should appear automatically in the final list.

What would be the purpose of this list and what would be the end game?

The way the final draft has been published, instead of solving the problem, it creates more issues. How have they tried to solve the problems? Minor problems will always be there.  If you do justice, the major problems will not be there.

What is the finality of this issue?

They should be give opportunities to genuine Indian citizens, the government should come to their help. The Supreme Court should also monitor it so that genuine Indian citizens are part of the final NRC list. Earlier the court didn’t monitor if genuine names are included or not. We now need judicial supervision.

What happens to the rest?

That has to be taken up with the Government of India. First they have to be made stateless after which it has to be taken up with the Bangladesh government, if they’ll accept them or not. We can’t throw them into the river or in the jungles, they have a right to live and we have to consider it as a humanitarian issue. They have their rights.