"Completely Secular Process": Himanta Biswa Sarma On Assam Citizens' List

Himanta Biswa Sarma said the issue is of detection of illegal immigrants and it is not a question of religion

Himanta Biswa Sarma said one cannot force somebody on the people of Assam.


With about 40 lakh people of the total 3.29 crore not making it to the full draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the big question is what happens next and how the government is going to deal with those who finally lose their citizenship.

Assam's Finance Minister and firebrand BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma has categorically said that the government would try to strike a balance between the aspirations of the indigenous people of Assam and the humanitarian consideration of those who are left out while formulating the final solution to the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh, that has been the main political discourse in the state since independence.

"Once we get the final NRC and a number would come in front of us, we will definitely talk to the government of Bangladesh and if they don't take their people back, we have to decide about their future in accordance with India's tradition, culture and history. However, you cannot force somebody on the people of Assam and you have to ensure a balance between the two -- aspirations of Indigenous people of Assam and the humanitarian consideration," Mr Sarma said in an exclusive interview with NDTV.

While 3.29 crore people in Assam had applied for updation of their names in the NRC, 1.9 crore made it to the first list released on 31 December, 2017. In the full draft list published today 2.89 crore names have appeared.

After the full draft, time would be given to those who are left out for claims and objections before the final list is published in a few months.

Mr Sarma clarified that the process of NRC is "secular" and Muslims need not fear of being targeted.

"The issue is of detection of illegal immigrants and it is not a question of religion. The list will itself reflect that it is a secular exercise, nothing has been directed against Muslims. People are spreading wrong information. Once the draft list is out, you will see it isn't biased and you will be proud of it," Mr Sarma, who also the head Assam government's cabinet sub-committee on NRC, added.

It was one of the BJP's poll promises to protect the identity, land and rights of the indigenous people from the illegal migrants that helped the party to form government in Assam in 2016. Mr Sarma is seen as the architect of that huge victory and BJP's foray into the northeast.

The NRC is being closely observed by other northeastern states where demands are being raised for a similar exercise to detect and deport illegal migrants.

With the 2019 Lok Sabha polls now being the focus, the BJP is treading carefully with the NRC given the fact that the party drew flak in the northeast on the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2014 under which the centre wants to give citizenship to Hindu refugees who have come from neighbouring countries fearing religious attacks.

"Muslims didn't come to India due to religious persecution, and the citizenship is only a proposal, it would be wrong to link it with the NRC," Mr Sarma said.