The three-time Chief Minister says that Assamese people are against Citizenship Act, not the NRC.
NEW DELHI: The Joint Parliamentary Committee on 3 January 2019 finalised the draft of Citizenship (Amendments) Bill, 2016. It is expected to be passed in Lok Sabha soon. It grants Indian nationality to minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It includes Jains, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians but excludes Islamists as they are in majority in these countries.
The Sunday Guardian debated its impact in Assam with Congress veteran Tarun Gogoi, who was the Chief Minister of the state for three consecutive terms. Assam has been vertically divided over the new Bill as it will pave way for Hindu Bangladeshi migrants to get Indian citizenship. In Assam, a huge exercise is underway to prepare citizen’s list.
In this exclusive interview, Gogoi discusses how it will be made redundant if the new Citizenship Act is passed. Excerpts:
Q: After the NRC (National Register of Citizens) exercise, 40 lakh people were thrown out of the citizenship list. Now, 30 lakh people have come back with new evidences to NRC. What is the ground situation over the issue?
A: You see, according to me, they are all genuine citizens.
Q: How do you say that?
A: Because it can’t be that there are 30 lakh foreigners out of 40 lakhs. It can’t be. And I have been the CM for a long time. So I know it can’t be. I also know that majority are Hindus. Some are Hindi speaking, others are Bengali, Nepali or Gorkhai speaking and some are locals too. I have no doubt that out of 40 lakh, more than 30 lakh must be Indian citizens. It is the mistake of the NRC, they didn’t take appropriate actions. They didn’t take care to see that these genuine Indian citizens are not left out. They have been put into unnecessary harassment and they have to apply again to prove their citizenship. And the new citizen amendment Act…
Q: Which is with the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee…
A: Which they are going to submit to Parliament in a few days. That would also prove the NRC as a waste of time and NRC list a waste of paper.
A: Because that NRC has been prepared on the basis of Assam Accord. 1971 is the cut-off year, 24 March is the cut-off date. The citizen amendment Bill, you see, will extend the citizenship up to 31 December 2014. So again a large number still has to prove, who came after ’71. So it is a waste of paper. Then also, the moment people will see that it is a waste of time and waste of energy…
Q: The citizenship Act is only applying to non-Muslims, right?
A: Yes. It applies to Hindus. So it will definitely be struck down, most likely. So it is against the principles. Because, in India, you can’t make distinction on the ground of religion. It is the equality before law, irrespective of which religion you belong to, caste or creed, it cannot make a distinction. Then the voter list is prepared by the EC, which is the constitutional authority. This list is prepared by the government. The NRC is prepared by the government of India. The Director-General of NRC is only of Additional Secretary rank, he is not even a Secretary. Supposing your name is not in the NRC. But your name is in the EC, you have the right to vote. Suppose your name is in the NRC, but not in the voter list, then you have no right to vote. Then which list you will give importance to? Then people ask, why did you go for NRC? You know it is my baby. My answer is, we want to have two layers, just like in the court. So that one is a voter list and the other is supported by the NRC. But now the way we have prepared, it is full of mistakes because of which those 40 lakh have been left out. Then again it has been amended also. So that layer also has no meaning according to this.
Q: What is the difference between your NRC and one that’s functioning now. NRC has set procedures and rules? It can’t function differently under Congress and BJP.
A: No no, I’ll tell you. There was set rules. There was no set procedure. I constituted a committee. Problem with NRC is that they do not have set rules and no experience. EC has an experience; they know the procedures and ways. NRC was not implemented in a proper manner. You have to verify. Somebody went to the HC with Panchayat certificates. They set them aside. Then somebody had to go to the Supreme Court. The SC certified it. So a lot of problems cropped up and they didn’t handle them well. Procedures are all right, here the question is of implementation. Sometimes there is nothing wrong with the procedure.
Q: Now, 10 lakh people have opted for not to re-apply, so what does it mean?
A: I do not know what it means. A lot of people don’t bother to apply also. I know a lot of people who are assuming that ‘oh my name is not there, they cannot throw me out’. Since he is an Indian citizen, he says I am an Indian citizen… On the ground, government is not giving it as much importance as they should have. Now because of mishandling and wrong implementation, when the list is prepared haphazardly, nobody will give it importance. That is what is going to happen.
Q: What is the approach of Congress on this issue?
A: Our case is that genuine Indian citizen names should come. They should be given all the facilities and real foreigners should be struck down. That is our case. The govt should help.
Q: So what is the political stance of BJP in the whole issue?
A: Politically, to play the game that.. (they) support Hindus. Our case is we do not make distinctions between Hindus and Muslims, citizen is a citizen. They (BJP) want to play with the Hindu sentiment.
Q: What are the Assamese people thinking now? Because in background of AASU politics, there is a language issue too, because Bengali speaking people were disliked by native Assamese.
A: Definitely, we do not make distinction on the basis of language or religion. We are not against Bengalis or Hindi speaking or Muslims or any other religion. Cut-off date of 1971 should apply to all.
Q: Because of the citizenship amendment Act, it is assumed that AGP will cut off from the NDA, they may quit NDA.
A: You see, they are also playing a double role.
Q: But AGP has said that they will be quitting.
A: Okay, but why are they still there with them then?
Q: What is the double game they are playing?
A: Their game is that they want to take full advantage of government power.
Q: You lost elections on this particular issue.
Q: So, there is a mandate for BJP on the issues. You can’t dismiss BJP’s stance totally.
A: Mandate is to find foreigners.
Q: So they are claiming they have done it.
A: What have they done?
Q: Exclusion of 40 lakh from the list…
A: No, they are not foreigners! Only if you find that these 30 lakh who have again applied are foreigners, then yes.
Q: Eventually what will happen?
A: You see, eventually I will prove that all allegations against me are false. They will not be able to find 40 lakh foreigners in Assam.
Q: But according to you, how many foreigners are there?
A: It is difficult…
Q: But tell me something…
A: But how would I know? Nobody knows!
Q: Sir, you were CM for three terms…
A: Nobody knows actually. Did the Government of India say?
Q: So you do not know how many foreigners are there?
A: According to me, they are doubtful. According to them also…
Q: How many?
A: Not even 3 lakh. That is doubtful, even, according to the GoI.
Q: So what will eventually happen?
A: Eventually, it will be proven that we were right and all propagandas of BJP were wrong and that there is a reason for which I have gone for the NRC. One of the reason to prove, to find out how many foreigners are there. You will give another chance.
Q: What is the impact of this exercise out of Assam, in India?
A: See the issue of citizenship amendment Act will definitely have an impact on India. Particularly, the indigenous Assamese people. They are against it – the citizenship act, not the NRC.