New Delhi: The publication of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list by the BJP government in Assam has triggered political tremors across the country. With about 40 lakh people – that’s roughly the population of the 2018 Football World Cup finalists Croatia – failing to find their names on the list that seeks to determine citizenship, it’s a move which can have consequences that go way beyond the demographics and politics of Assam or even West Bengal.
For what’s at stake here are fundamental issues such as what constitutes citizenship; the genuine sense of siege some indigenous communities feel after waves of unchecked immigration; and the potentially combustible faultlines of ethnicity, religion and demographics that can be exploited by politicians of all stripes.
But as opponents and proponents of the list slug it out, lost in the accusations and counter-accusations, claims and counter-claims, heat and very little light are real stories of people who might not find their names on the list.
Take for instance Ziauddin Ali Ahmed, the nephew of former President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. “Our names are not mentioned in the NRC list as my father’s name is not mentioned in the Legacy Data document. I will get in touch with my uncle’s family members,” a hopeful Ziauddin told news agency ANI.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has quickly emerged as the most trenchant critic of the NRC list and the BJP’s alleged motives behind backing it, also chipped in. “I am surprised to see that the names of our former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s family members are not on the NRC Assam list,” she said, as quoted by NDTV. “What else can I say? There are so many people whose names are not there.”
Ziauddin might eventually find his name on an updated version of the list – but for many, many other people in Assam, it’s a very uncertain road ahead, fraught with what one American official once memorably called, in a very different context, many “unknown unknowns”.