The Big Story: Counting heads

There are few places with ethnic politics as complex as Assam. Faultiness include language, religion as well as ethnic identity, all of which is compounded with the legacy of India’s Partition in 1947. Into this mix, a 2014 Supreme Court order to update the National Register of Citizens – a list of Indian citizens living in Assam compiled in 1951 – was always going to be fraught with tension. The final draft of the NRC was published on Monday, leaving an astonishing four million out. While the process is still to be completed – people excluded can approach the NRC with proof of citizenship – the spectre of such a large population being rendered stateless raises concerns about a possible humanitarian disaster.

In this sensitive situation, the Bharatiya Janata Party president held a press conference on Tuesday which could only be described as provocative. Shah described the exercise as one of “national security”. He sharply criticised the Opposition for “vote bank politics that have been placed above national interest”. The BJP chief challenged other parties to make their stand on Bangladeshi infiltrators clear. “Other than the BJD [Biju Janata Dal] and us, no other party thought it necessary to say that this country has no place for infiltrators,” said Shah. During his press conference Shah also claimed that the NRC process requires anyone not in the final list to be excluded from India’s electoral rolls.

While accusing the Opposition of siding with Bangladeshi migrants, Shah himself was clear that “refugees” would be welcome to come into India. The difference between “refugees” and “illegal migrants” is a dog whistle used repeatedly by the BJP to separate Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshis in India. Currently, the BJP is trying to amend India’s citizenship laws to award citizenship to migrants from neighbouring countries – as long as they are not Muslim.

Till now politicians, in Delhi or in the state, have treaded softly around the NRC, aware of how tense the situation is. The publishing of the final draft was accompanied with urgent calls to maintain peace. Unfortunately, this was at best a temporary lull and with Shah’s press conference, it is clear that the NRC will boost the politics of chauvinism. The exercise to identify illegal migrants from Bangladesh in Assam will allow the BJP to add to the communal pitch in the run up to the 2019 elections, attacking the Opposition for appeasement and not being more proactive on national security, further vitiating India’s already fraught communal situation.

The Big Scroll

  • Explainer: Ipsita Chakravarty on what will happen to the 40 lakh people left out of Assam’s draft Register of Citizens.
  • Arunabh Saikia reports on why relatives of former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed are not on Assam’s final NRC draft.
  • “An expel Bengalis campaign”: Opposing NRC in Assam, Mamata Banerjee makes her strongest identity pitch yet, writes Shoaib Daniyal.


  • All the NRC has done is drive a bitter, ever widening wedge between the Bangla Hindu dominated Barak Valley and the greater Brahmaputra Valley where Hindus, Muslims and many other groups including the majority Assamese speakers live, writes Sanjoy Hazarika in the Tribune.
  • India’s total energy losses are significantly more than international norms—wastage that state budgets cannot afford, point out Bjorn Lomborg and Manorama Bakshi in Mint.
  • Is upper caste-dominated Bollywood hijacking the narrative of caste oppression, asks Bikas Mishra in the Indian Express.


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