Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s animosity towards the minority Muslims will shape up into frenzy on Saturday (today) when his Home Minister Amit Shah will be releasing a controversial list that will strip four million people — majority of them Muslims — of their Indian citizenship in Assam.
The final version of the controversial list called the National Register of Citizens is the result of a six-year effort to ostensibly catalog all the legal residents of the northeastern state of Assam, but the list has been mired in controversy. The last time a draft was released, in 2018, 4.1 million people were left off, putting them at risk of being made stateless. Many of them were poor, illiterate and/or members of the Muslim minority.
Observers are worried that the final list will result in families being split up, incarcerated, and even being chased out to Bangladesh — a country many have never set foot in. And rights groups are worried that the list could set off a chain of events similar to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar in 2017, when roughly 750,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority were persecuted, stripped of their Burmese citizenship and forced to flee to Bangladesh.
Others fear that this is the start of a disturbing trend. Modi’s Home Minister Amit Shah has promised to expel “infiltrators” from the rest of India, using Assam as a testing ground.
“We will implement National Register of Citizens in the entire country,” Shah said when the BJP returned to power for another five years in May. “We will remove every single infiltrator.”
Security was tightened Friday in Assam ahead of the release of list. Those left off the National Register of Citizens (NRC), due to be published Saturday, face losing their citizenship, being put indefinitely into camps or deported – to the alarm of UN rights experts and activists.
Authorities in Assam have brought in 17,000 additional security personnel with gatherings banned in some areas and “cyber units” scanning the social media.
Assam, an isolated state of 33 million, has long seen large influxes from elsewhere including during British colonial rule and around the 1971 war of independence in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Pressure for a lasting solution has been growing for decades from those who see themselves as genuine Assamese. Sporadic violence has included the massacre of around 2,000 people in 1983.
Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also runs Assam, say the NRC process reflects its aim to serve only its co-religionists.
In January India´s lower house passed legislation that stands to grant citizenship to people who moved to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan as recently as six years ago — but not if they are Muslim.
Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi´s right-hand-man, has called for ejection of “termites” and said before the BJP´s thumping re-election victory in May that it would “run a countrywide campaign to send back the infiltrators”.