Confusion and anger gripped the Northeast Indian state of Assam on Tuesday, a day after the government released a partial list of registered citizens that included only 19 million of its 32 million people.
Being updated for the first time since 1951, the list, known as the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is aimed at detecting and deporting an estimated 20 million Bangladeshi migrants living in India illegally, according to the government.
The state government said the published NRC was a partial list, adding that the citizenship status of about 13 million people was being verified. The final list will be released some time in 2018, a government official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
The names of several political leaders in Assam were missing from the partial list published on Monday, including All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal, his parliamentarian brother Sirajuddin Ajmal, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Shiladitya Dev, Congress party leader Nurul Huda and several members of the All India Minority Students.
“The non-inclusion of many prominent names, especially minority leaders, is a clear indication of Assam’s shifting political narrative ever since the rightwing BJP rose to power,” Monirul Hussain, professor of political science at the Guwahati University, told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal appealed to residents to not panic if their names didn’t appear in the first list.
“This is only a part draft of the NRC. If the names of genuine Indian citizens are left out, there are enough provisions to submit claims to get their names included in the final list,” Sonowal told reporters.
On Monday, however, a man in Silchar, about 500 km (310.6 miles) from the state capital Guwahati, allegedly committed suicide because of the NRC publication. Hanif Khan was found hanged in his house.
“Local villagers told us that he got scared after not finding his name in the list. However, we are still investigating if there was any other reason for taking the extreme step,” a police officer told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Opposition speaks out
The country’s principal opposition party, the Indian National Congress, urged the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP to clarify why it did not publish the entire list by the end of 2017, as ordered by the Supreme Court.
“The NRC coordinator, Registrar General of India and the state government must clarify as to why so many prominent names were left out of the first part of the NRC,” opposition party member Debabrata Saikia told BenarNews.
The NRC is being updated to include names of people or their descendants who are in the 1951 registry and those who have legally admissible documents issued up to March 24, 1971, the government said. The list aims to detect and expunge all undocumented Bangladeshi immigrants and those who settled in India after Bangladesh became a nation in 1971.
The Indian government has deployed paramilitary forces in the state to prevent possible protests and violence following the list’s publication. The NRC update was part of BJP’s 2016 election manifesto, as it swept to power in the state.
“This [NRC] is the first step toward making Assam free of Bangladeshis,” All Assam Students Union’s Samujjal Bhattacharya told BenarNews. The student group spearheaded the movement to update the NRC.