With Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah accusing the Congress of not showing courage to identify illegal migrants in Assam, the opposition on Tuesday asked the government to tread cautiously and not play politics on the issue of the National Register of Citizens.
While the Congress asked the government to adopt a humanitarian approach and not leave out any Indian from the Assam’s National Register of Citizens, Trinamool Congress demanded its complete withdrawal claiming that Indians were left out of it.
As the Rajya Sabha debated the NRC issue after Congress and TMC members created an uproar, Amit Shah countered them by asking whether the Congress wanted to save the “illegal Bangladeshis”.
Participating in a discussion which was taken up by doing away with the Question Hour, Shah said the NRC was an exercise which was to be conducted as part of the Assam Accord signed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on August 14, 1985 after the movement in the state went out of control leading to death of some protesters.
Noting that the NRC was the spirit of the accord which sought to identify illegal migrants and prepare a list of Indian citizens, he said the exercise was now being conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
“NRC is being conducted on the SC order. There are 40 lakh people (missing in the list) ... Whom do you want to save? You want to save illegal Bangaldesis,” he posed.
He said “this was the Congress PM’s initiative. He (Rajiv Gandhi) did not have the courage. We have courage and we are doing it.”
Shah’s remarks provoked noisy protests by the Opposition members led by those from the Congress and the TMC. The House was first adjourned by Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu for about 10 minutes during the debate and then for the day.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh was present in the House but could not reply due to the noisy protests.
Earlier, Naidu, while allowing the Question Hour to be dispensed with on Tuesday, termed NRC as a “serious and sensitive” matter.
Initiating the debate, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said it was a humanitarian issue and not a matter of any particular caste, religion or region.
“We don’t want any person to be driven out of the country. This is not only about 40 lakh people, if you consider their children, families, it comes to 1-1.5 crore people,” Azad said, adding the issue may have international ramifications, especially on India’s close friend Bangladesh.
He observed that the onus of proving identity as a citizen of India should lie upon not just an individual but the government as well.
Azad said the government should make legal provisions for the affected persons and there should be no harassment. The Leader of Opposition further said even if one document is there out of the 16 documents required to prove identity, it should suffice, adding that no political party should make it a political or vote issue.
Ram Gopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party claimed that the persons not included in the NRC include those of Hindus as well as Muslims, and even those from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
He said there is a need to exercise a lot of caution on the issue as if the name of an Indian citizen in Assam is not included in the NRC, where will the person go.
TMC’s Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said his party chief Mamata Banerjee has said it should be withdrawn and the legal citizens of India should not be thrown out.
He said that 40 lakh people have been rendered “nationless which is unique in the history of the world.” He claimed that Indian citizens as well as government officials have been left out of the draft NRC list.
Roy said a misconception was being spread among the people that the exercise was being conducted in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directive and asserted that the right of the people to reside in any state as per the Constitution is being violated.
Prasanna Acharya of the Biju Janata Dal said no one should read politics on the issue because it is very sensitive. He urged Home Minister Rajnath Singh to provide an assurance that all irregularities in the NRC will be taken care of.
“In the heat of the argument, let us not forget that this is an issue where national security is involved, humanitarian angle is also involved,” Acharya said.
Y S Chowdary of the Telugu Desam Party claimed that proper procedure was not followed in the exercise of compiling the NRC and as a result, 40 lakh people have been declared refugees.
TK Rangarajan of the Communist Party of India-Marxist alleged that it was an illegal report and does not take into account several people from other parts of India who moved to Assam earlier.
Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Kumar Jha said it cannot solely be a “heartless bureaucratic exercise” but should have a humanitarian approach, while Veer Singh of the BSP said an informed decision should be taken in this regard.
Nationalist Congress Party’s Majeed Memon said it was not an issue of people from one religion alone, but the constitutional values with regard to the rights of an Indian citizen are involved.
He said India will become the “laughing stock of the world if the people living in Assam since 50 years were dumped somewhere else.
Biswajit Daimary, who belongs to Assam, said the names were not included in the NRC list due to lack of documentary proof. Such people have been given time to submit the documents.
“There won’t be any action taken on over 40 lakh people (whose names are in the NRC list). They can submit the documents and proof. There should not be any confusion on this,” he said.
Swapan Dasgupta (Nom) said “my only appeal is that let there be a rigorous and fair scrutiny. Let us not be in denial that there is a real problem in Assam.”
“This NRC did not come out of thin air. It was preceded by a sustained agitation in which 100s of people lost lives and in which there was huge emotional outpouring in Assam and in other parts of north east,” he said.
“There is a perception which is not quantified that there is a large foreigner population living in Assam. We can only deny this at our own peril,” he said.
Jose K Mani of the Kerala Congress- M said the Assam issue is a national issue, besides being a constitutional and humanitarian issue. The stakeholders have not been consulted and the government should have a road map to address the problem.
D Raja of the CPI said the issue has become sensitive and has the potential to disturb relations with neighbouring countries and even harmony among the states. He also said the government should take Parliament and political parties into confidence while dealing with such issues.
V Vijaysai Reddy of the YSR Congress said Indian citizens who are not in the list should be restored without harassment, while Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh said “We should not give religious colour. We should look from humanitarian point of view.”
Tiruchi Siva of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham suggested that the government to tackle the issue in an amicable way, while Telangana Rashtra Samithi Dharmapuri Srinivas said that the government should reconsider and revaluate the list. Sukhdev Singh Dhinsa of the Shiromani Akali Dal also spoke about minorities.
Later, the sources said the Chairman discussed the issue with Leader of Opposition Azad and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs during the adjournment.
Naidu conveyed his unhappiness over the way a good discussion on NRC in Assam was derailed towards the end.
The Chairman, the sources said, told Azad that for the first time he had suspended Question Hour on the demand of all sections of the House to discuss the issue but the purpose was defeated by the disruptions.