To NRC or Not: West Bengal Resolution against NRC builds up political steam in the state

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Kolkata: On September 7 West Bengal became the first Indian state to officially protest against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam, which has left out over 19 lakh individuals in its final list. After passing the resolution, which was supported by both the Left and Congress, the ruling party even ruled out the possibility of NRC implementation in Bengal.

NRC has become an important issue not just because of the state’s proximity to Assam and its porous Indo-Bangladesh border but also because of the repeated assertions made by both the central and state BJP leader for the implementation of NRC in Bengal to weed out illegal immigrants in the state.

Bengal united against NRC

Understanding the need to take stringent steps to create a people’s movement in Bengal and other parts of the country several civil societies, voluntary organisations and Forums have been holding discussions and meets. The path for the resolution to be passed was paved by Joint Forum Against NRC, when they submitted a memorandum before the speaker of the West Bengal Assembly, expressing their demand to pass a resolution against NRC implementation in Assam on August 29. Opposition leaders too around the same time frame had also expressed a similar need.

Bose added, “The Union Home Ministry has already notified in the Gazette on July 31, 2019, that the process of house-to-house enumeration across the country for the Population Register will be undertaken between April to September 2020, under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. This is the initial step towards the preparation of the “National Register for Indian Citizens”. The rationale behind this exercise and the modalities of establishing the citizenship of residents must be questioned, including the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003.”

One of the members of the Forum, Prasenjit Bose, reacted, “The passage of the Assembly Resolution is a positive first step. The Joint Forum calls upon all the political parties in West Bengal who have supported the Assembly Resolution to build united resistance against the NRC exercise.”

Bose added, “The Union Home Ministry has already notified in the Gazette on July 31, 2019, that the process of house-to-house enumeration across the country for the Population Register will be undertaken between April to September 2020, under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. This is the initial step towards the preparation of the “National Register for Indian Citizens”. The rationale behind this exercise and the modalities of establishing the citizenship of residents must be questioned, including the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003.”

Legal implications of the resolution

Picking on the legal significance of the resolution of Faizan Mustafa, renowned jurist on constitutional law and vice-chancellor of NALSAR Hyderabad, told eNewsroom, “Citizenship falls under the purview of the centre. The state government can do little if the centre passed an amendment or direction. This type of resolutions has little legal significance.”

On being asked what would they do if the centre directs every state to have it implemented by passing the Citizen’s Amendment Bill, the TMC MP replied, “We will oppose it. We are not puppet of the central government. This entire exercise of having citizenship is a political vendetta against a certain section of the Indian society. A notification has been sent to all states to set up detention centres. We are against it and will not have it implemented here at any cost.”

However, Colin Gonsalves, senior advocate at the Supreme Court felt that this resolution has immense significance. Speaking to eNewsroom, he said, “In Assam Bengali speaking were the most affected, so the Bengal government has made a political stand when it passed this resolution, that it doesn’t stand alongside the centre in this NRC exercise in Assam. We need to understand that this resolution was against NRC exercise in Assam and not Bengal.”

Adding to that Nesar Khan , former secretary of West Bengal Assembly explained, “The resolution is like a warning to the centre. It has no legal standing. If the centre implements NRC in Bengal then the state government wouldn’t help them and would rather create obstacles.”

But Sajda Ahmed, TMC MP told eNewsroom, “The resolution passed in the Assembly is an official statement from the WB government that we are not open to NRC being implemented in our state. Even the opposition parties barring BJP have supported this move.”

On being asked what would they do if the centre directs every state to have it implemented by passing the Citizen’s Amendment Bill, she replied, “We will oppose it. We are not puppet of the central government. This entire exercise of having citizenship is a political vendetta against a certain section of the Indian society. A notification has been sent to all states to set up detention centres. We are against it and will not have it implemented here at any cost.”

She added, “The saddest part is that the poor people are not even fully aware of what NRC or CAB is all about. We are trying to create awareness among the masses regarding the same.”

Tanmay Ghosh, secretary, Bangla Sanskriti Manch, a non-governmental organisation working for Human Right issues said, “NRC is draconian. We can see its ill effects in Assam. We can’t let the same happen in Bengal. We know the BJP narrative – of illegal immigration and are aware of how it will play on the same to create pressure and have it implemented here. But we need to understand that there is no official evidence of the presence of a large number of such ‘illegal migrants’. Steps like the NRC, which affects the entire population of a state, cannot be implemented based on hearsay.”

Road Ahead

Reacting to the resolution passed, Dr Mohit Roy, senior BJP leader and convenor of BJP’s Refugee cell, said, “The resolution means nothing to us. They have done it for political mileage. But let me be very clear, given the demography of Bengal, NRC is a must for this state and BJP has resolved to implement something along the line to weed out illegal immigrants from Bengal.” He paused and then added, “There is no other alternative in Bengal.”

Reacting to same, Tanmay Ghosh, secretary, Bangla Sanskriti Manch, a non-governmental organisation working for Human Right issues said, “NRC is draconian. We can see its ill effects in Assam. We can’t let the same happen in Bengal. We know the BJP narrative – of illegal immigration and are aware of how it will play on the same to create pressure and have it implemented here. But we need to understand that there is no official evidence of the presence of a large number of such ‘illegal migrants’. Steps like the NRC, which affects the entire population of a state, cannot be implemented based on hearsay.”

He added, “Understanding the BJP narrative and intention, several forums and social activists and organisations like ours should explain to the common man across state, what NRC means and the implication of its implementation in Bengal or the enactment of the Citizen’s Amendment Bill, which they are planning to reintroduce in the coming session in the Parliament.”

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In recent times, people-centric journalism is being done mostly by independent digital media. These organizations run on public support. Founded in 2017, eNewsroom India has been doing meaningful stories for over four years now. We practice ‘Old School Journalism’ and focus on under-reported stories from Bengal, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan regularly. Our opinion pieces come from across the country.

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