India is plagued and paralysed by agitations opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act which was enacted by the prime minister Narendra Modi-led BJP in the parliament.
Apart from Citizenship Act, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) update is one of BJP’s key agendas. It formed part of the BJP’s manifesto in the run-up to the Indian general elections in 2019. “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas of priority. In future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country,” read the manifesto.
However, the nation was astonished while PM Modi himself said the nationwide NRC has not been discussed by his government and noted that it has been carried out only in Assam so far following the Supreme Court’s order. The PM made this statement while addressing a public meeting in Delhi on 22 December.
The opposition has termed Modi’s statement a volte-face.
Be that as it may, a couple of political parties in the Northeast Indian state of Tripura are clinging to their stance. Some are for NRC and some are not.
Tripura People’s Front (TPF), a non-political group led by a former college lecturer named Patal Kanya Jamatia, is spearheading the movement for introduction of NRC in Tripura via legal means. It filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with the Supreme Court on 28 August 2018 for an Assam-like NRC exercise in Tripura. According to the petition, the TPF considers the illegal immigration issue in Tripura worse than Assam.
One of the TPF’s key grounds of challenge as stated in the petition is stated as follows:
For that it is an admitted fact that the State has virtually done nothing till date to detect and deport those illegal immigrants who have entered into the State of Tripura after 19/7/1948. The Central Government has totally failed in its constitutional obligations in this regard. In this regard it may be noted that, as a result of series of discussions with the representatives of the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) culminating in a tripartite agreement popularly known as the Rajiv-Hrangkhawl agreement to end the eight-year old insurgency an agreement was signed on August 12, 1988 in New Delhi by the Union Government, the Government of Tripura and the TNV. For the first time, the problem of illegal migration in Tripura had been recognised by Government of India in 1988. According to this accord the government solemnly assured that, “Stringent measures will be taken to prevent infiltration from across the border by strengthening arrangements on the border and construction of roads along vulnerable sections of the Indo-Bangladesh border in Tripura section for better patrolling and vigil. Vigorous action against such infiltrators would also be taken under the law.” Subsequently the State signed a Memorandum of Settlement (MOS) with the All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTF) on 23/3/1993. It may be noted that Clause 2(B) of the MOS inter-alia stipulated to the effect that “Action would be taken in respect of sending back all Bangladesh foreign nationals who have come to Tripura after 25th March, 1971 and are not in possession of valid documents authorizing their presence in Tripura. However, no further action has been taken by the State in terms of the commitments made with respect to detections and deportation of the illegal immigrants.”
The PIL further states “Article 6 of the Constitution clearly states that a person, who came to India from the territory then included in Pakistan and whose parents or grandparents were born in India as understood under the Government of India Act, 1935, would be treated as an Indian Citizen. However, for acquiring citizenship, this Article has stated that such a person should migrate to India before July 19, 1948.”
And thus, the TPF is in favour of 19 July 1948 as the cut-off date for detecting and deporting illegal immigrants from Tripura through the NRC.
Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra (INPT) led by Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl has filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court on 24 October 2018 as well for introduction of NRC update in Tripura.
However, they differ with Tripura People’s Front pertaining to the cut-off date.
Speaking to this correspondent, INPT President Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl said, “We want 1951 as the cut-off date because in adherence to the Indian Constitution, NRC was first introduced in the aforementioned year itself. Assam’s case is different in the context of Assam Accord which mandates 1971 as the cut-off date. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court shall take the final call on this matter.”
Notably, Bijoy Hrangkhawl was the guardian angel of Tripura National Volunteers, and signatory to the agreement with then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This agreement has been specifically mentioned by Patal Kanya Jamatia in her PIL.
On the other hand, Amra Bangali, a political party claiming to represent Bengali interests is stridently against NRC update in Tripura. It is headquartered in Kolkata and the Law Secretary of Amra Bangali Tripura Committee Rakhal Raj Dutta expressed his party’s views on NRC.
He told this scribe, “Tripura has 19 sub-tribes. But they ancestrally hail from Arakan of present-day Myanmar. So what is the fault of the Bengalis if they hail from erstwhile East Pakistan which is presently known as Bangladesh?”
“On the other hand, India’s central government has been biased against Bengalis since independence. During the partition of the country, around 47 lakhs of people from West Punjab migrated to its Eastern counterpart. The Indian Government led by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rehabilitated them with basic amenities. But there were 2 crores of Bengalis who migrated from East Pakistan. They were provided a nominal amount of money. And ironically, no rehabilitation was provided to these Bengalis,” Dutta elaborated.
“Therefore, it is futile to introduce NRC in Tripura. For this matter, Amra Bangali Central Secretary Bakul Roy in collaboration with Raju Ghosh of Human Protection and Awareness Organisation filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court on 23 March, 2018. Through the petition, they argued the detention camps set up in Assam are illegal and inhumane. And the provisions laid down in the NRC violates the Citizenship Act of 1955,” the Amra Bangali Tripura Committee Law Secretary added.
While these cases are still pending, it is left to be seen what verdict India’s apex Court delivers in the long run.