West Bengal must also maintain NRC: Prafulla Mahanta

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New Delhi : Former Assam Chief Minister and AGP leader Prafulla Mahanta on Wednesday said that West Bengal should also maintain a National Register of Citizens (NRC) which should include the names of only Indian nationals and exclude those of illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators.

"We have also appealed to West Bengal that it will be good if they maintain a register of Indian nationals," Mahanta, who is now the Chief Advisor of the Asom Andolan Sangrami Manch (AASM), a platform of the constituents of the historic Assam Movement, said at a press conference here.

"In Bangladesh, everybody speaks Bengali as it is their national language, so those who infiltrate also speak Bengali," he said.

"It is easy for them to mix in West Bengal and Tripura but in Assam, apart from the Barak valley, they get caught."

Expressing the hope that West Bengal will start the preparation for an NRC with the help of the central government, Mahanta said: "A good government official at least at the secretary-level should be appointed at the Register General's Office. If an additional secretary is there, he cannot always draw the attention of ministers of the central government. But a secretary can."

His comments come in the face of fierce opposition of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to the final draft of the Assam NRC that was released last month and in which as many as four million people did not find their names.

Mahanta was in the national capital leading a delegation of the AASM for a series of programmes opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, that will virtually render the 1985 Assam Accord meaningless.

Since the Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2016, Mahanta's AGP, which was formed after the Assam Movement and which is now the junior partner in Assam's current ruling BJP alliance, has been vociferously opposing it.

The Bill seeks to grant citizenship rights to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the basis of religious persecution.

But, according to the Assam Accord, all foreigners who entered that northeastern state after March 24, 1971, should be detected and deported irrespective of religion.

"The Asom Andolan Sangrami Mancha has been from the very beginning opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 because if this bill becomes a law, the indigenous people of Assam will become a minority and will lose their rights," Mahanta said.

He also said that the Indian government assuring the Bangladesh government that the NRC is an internal matter of India and the eastern neighbour should not be worried about it cannot be accepted.

According to Al-hajj Sayed Nazi, a leader of a religious party allied to Bangladesh's ruling alliance, the Narendra Modi government has assured his country that the NRC is an internal matter of India and there will be no deportations to Bangladesh.

"All earlier governments as well as all parties have agreed that, according to the Assam Accord, all those Bangladeshis who have infiltrated into India after March 24, 1971, should be deported," Mahanta said.

"The main reason for the Assam Accord going for 1971 was the Indira-Mujib pact and also because all national parties did not want to go beyond that."

Mahanta said that in 1980, when he was the President of the All Assam Students Union that was spearheading the Assam Movement and Bhrigu Phukan was its General Secretary, they had submitted a memorandum to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi clearly stating that the 1951 NRC of Assam should be updated.

"The NRC is the first step that will make the process of detecting foreigners easy," Mahanta said.

He said that promises were made by the current government at the Centre at the time of the 2014 general elections that after 2016, all Bangladeshis will have to leave Assam for Bangladesh along with their belongings and that not an inch of Assam would be ceded to Bangladesh and the interests of Assam will be safeguarded.

"But none of these turned into reality on the ground. Instead, land of Assam was given to Bangladesh and steps have been taken through the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to give permanent status to them (Bangladeshi infiltrators)," Mahanta said.

"So, we at the Asom Andolan Sangrami Mancha, are appealing to the central government not to turn this Bill into law and publish a correct NRC."