As the debate over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) simmers across political circles in the country and has caused some very serious worries among the Assamese population, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, who is also in charge of the party affairs in northeast, speaks to CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil on the party’s strategy in dealing with the mammoth issue at hand ahead of the 2019 elections.
Q: What is the BJP strategy? 40 lakh people have been left out of the draft NRC list. One wonders if this exercise was done in haste. Former President, Fakouriddin Ahmed’s nephew has been left out of this list, a sitting BJP MLA and his wife have been left out the list along with many other people.
Ram Madhav: Let me correct the idea, no street battles are happening in Assam. Although most irresponsible politicians like Mamata Banerjee are trying their best to provoke violence. She even tried to send her MPs to Assam to provoke the people there. Otherwise, Assam government has taken enough measures to ensure that there are no disturbances.
You must remember that this whole exercise was done under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court, so there was no hurry at all. If it all there was any hurry, it was because the Supreme Court was pushing for a certain deadline. The government almost took two full years to complete the exercise. There were 3.29 crores application claiming citizenship. They had to be scrutinised and it was a massive exercise involving 40-45,000 state government employees. The result is that today, we have 2.9 crores citizens proving their citizenship through available documents. About the remaining 40 lakh, nobody has said, including the Home Minister that they will be declared foreigners. There will be some who could not have produced any of the documents or they could not be verified properly. It is a long process.
Q: But it’s an MLA who has submitted his affidavit during the elections who does not find a mention in the list.
A: If he is an Indian citizen and an MLA, he can submit his documents for correction and he’ll be cleared. So that is why I am saying that there is no need to panic. No Indian citizen will be left out. Any number of Indian citizens who couldn’t find their names in the final draft can get it amended in two months’ time.
Q: Take the case of Lance Naik Inamul Haq, a proud Indian, his entire family is on the list while his name is not there.
A: We are proud of each and every soldier of India, so no Indian citizen needs to worry that his name is going to be dropped out of the final list. I am taking full responsibility that no single citizen of India will be left out.
Q: What will be the status of those who are left out of the final NRC list that will be published in December?
A: Those who will be left out after the publication of actual NRC list are deemed to be foreigners in our country. They have the option to challenge this premise or they can go to the foreigner’s tribunal. About 78 of these tribunals are already there in Assam and the government is contemplating to open more by looking at the numbers. So these people will still be left with an option.
Q: Are you looking at some kind of timeline for these cases?
A: Obviously. It depends on the number of claims. The cases have to be verified. Once the process is over, three months after that, I am assuming the final list will come out and after that the tribunal will be available for them.
Q: After December, whether an individual is a Hindu or Muslim, they will be deported?
A: Those who are left out will technically be deemed as foreigners. They will have access to the foreigner’s tribunal. There is also the option to access the refugees’ provision in our country. India has always had provisions for refugees who get prosecuted, who come to India for different reasons. More than 100,000 Tamil refugees live in Tamil Naidu, those who came to India as a refugee during that crisis in Sri Lanka. So don’t jump to conclusions that from day after tomorrow, deportations will begin.
Which country will tolerate foreigners who are living illegally? Saudi Arabia has deported Bangladeshis, Pakistanis. 3.5 million illegal citizens have been identified by the Saudi government, who wants to deport all of them. In India, we are creating such ‘halla’ about foreigners living illegally in the country.
Q: Bangladesh has always refused foreigners, essentially declared so by the Indian court. A Bangladeshi minister has said that it is India’s internal matter. So where will these foreigners go? It is a humanitarian crisis.
A: We have to cross many bridges before we reach Bangladesh. But I would also want to humbly remind Bangladesh that today Bangladesh itself is facing a huge issue of illegal migration. Over 500,000 Rohingyas are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. We are giving them aid to manage their refugee crisis. So Bangladesh knows what actually the problem is.
Q: We are living in a very challenging neighbourhood. Don’t you see this could have diplomatic implications as well? We have created a stateless population of 40 lakh.
A: The diplomatic aspect will be handed carefully by the foreign ministry and other responsible officials in the government. But why did we reach at this position in the first place? France, Germany and Italy are closing down their ports for illegal immigrants but we have left them open for decades for illegal immigrants to enter the country. This sin that was committed by the government after Independence and has resulted in this situation. At least today, we are trying to secure the fundamental rights of our citizens.
Q: How would the fate of the children who are declared foreigners be decided?
A: We are worried about the fate of our children, citizens of the country. Those who are non-citizens, those who are residing illegally in this country will be dealt with after the final list.
Q: Will this exercise be repeated in neigbouring West Bengal?
A: No country should ideally allow any foreign citizens on its soil. America is trying to build a wall across its border with Mexico. It happens everywhere. But the magnitude of this problem is so big that we will have to think how to go about it. I do not have any immediate answers.
Q: Your government’s citizenship bill didn’t get through. Many are seeing the NRC as a covert attempt to give preference to the religious majority.
A: If it is a covert attempt, you can blame it on Rajiv Gandhi who agreed to it in 1985. 1951 is the cutoff year for citizenship in India. There are 3 other types of acquiring citizenship. In Assam’s case, we have accepted 1971 as the cut off year. We have allowed all of them in between 1951-1971 to become citizens, at least in Assam. That agreement was signed by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, so who should be blamed? I am saying that it was genuine step taken by Rajiv Gandhi and at that time also, his demand was just like rest of the country, 1951 should also be the cut off year for Assam. Yet in their own wisdom, they decided the time 1971. After 1971, if there are illegal immigrants in this country we will have to deal with them.
Q: There is a lot of opposition against the citizenship bill even in Assam because the many believe this is aimed attacking a certain section.
A: Assam has agitated against the illegal immigrants. In 1985, the agreement was signed. But why did we allow people to come in till 1971? Because there was a huge problem of persecution in the East Pakistan. Until 1971, it was East Pakistan. There was problem of persecution against the minorities. A large number of Bangladeshi Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and other minorities were fleeing to India in large number and with them came a lot of Bangladeshi Muslim too. So that is why we gave a 20-year grace period for Assam, because refugees are there. Refugees who came after 1971. It is the responsibility of the Indian government to take care of those refugees.
Q: There is a lot of politics surrounding the whole issue. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, has said that ultimately it is Bengal which will suffer and is just vote bank politics by the BJP.
A: She is the most opportunistic politician in the country today. It was she who stood up in the Lok Sabha in 2005 and threw her shawl at the Speaker and shouted that the Left government in Bengal was allowing illegal immigrants from Bangladesh into Bengal to convert them into vote banks. Today, she is making the very same argument in favour of infiltrators.
Q: She is talking about a larger conspiracy, some kind of a game plan for 2019 and that is the reason why the timing of the release of NRC is being suspected.
A: Let Mamata and all those who are crying about a political conspiracy behind the timing ask Justice Ranjan Gogoi as he was the one who gave the timeline for this whole process. If they see Supreme Court as a constituent of BJP, that will only help these politicians. As I said, this whole process was undertaken by the Registrar General of India (RGI) under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court. The Assam government in fact, wanted more time for completing the process and the Supreme Court came heavily down on the government and said if you are so incapable of completing the process, you tell us we, will do something else. So we did it under their guidance and it is a good thing that this has happened.
Q: Coming to Kashmir, because there is a civilian government in Pakistan as Imran Khan will take oath on August 11. How does the Indian government see this?
A: We are not the choosers of the governments in our neighbour countries. They have chosen Imran Khan as the PM. We always expect the government of Pakistan to be friendly, not only to the interest of India, but also the entire region.
Q: Are you worried that you will have to reboot the entire exercise of dealing with Pakistan?
A: We have dealt with Nawaz Sharif succeeded by Musharraf and we have dealt with democrats. That is why I said you cannot choose your neighbours, you have to learn to live with them. We know how to secure our interests. Let us hope Imran Khan understands the gravity of the situation and helps restoring peace in the region.
Q: When will Kashmir will get a Governor as there is Amarnath Yatra on August 26?
A: That only the Prime Minister and Home Minister will be able to answer. As far as I know the tenure of the Governor will end soon and hopefully a new Governor will be appointed.
Q: Since you are in charge of Kashmir, is BJP planning to form the government in Kashmir?
A: We opted to come out of alliance because we thought there was a need of a Centre-monitored government in Kashmir, so we opted for the Governor’s rule. We see it to have the desired impact in Kashmir. I think the Valley has suddenly become more peaceful except for terrorism incidents, you don’t see any unrest in the Valley. So we are in favour of the Governor’s rule for some more time.
Q: What about BJP’s equation with a section of PDP MLAs? A number of them have openly come out against the method in which Mehbooba Mufti runs the party. And it was also alleged by her that the Centre is building pressure on her MLAs.
A: That is utterly baseless. You can’t manage your own household and you blame the neighbour for the plight for your own people. Having said that, we at individual levels, have good relations. We have left the government in Kashmir but we have not left Kashmir. People of Kashmir are dear to us. We will continue to work for the welfare and well-being of the people of Kashmir. But all these conspiracy arguments are baseless.
Q: Will you make an attempt at forming the government in near future or after the Governor’s rule. Will there be an effort?
A: From our side, we are up for a continued Governor’s rule in Kashmir. Who knows what will happen after that. Let’s wait and see.
Q: There is a larger concern over increased lynching incidents. It is also appearing to be the new normal. BJP-ruled states particularly witness more cases. Vasundra Raje has said that lynching is rising because of higher unemployment. Would you agree with that?
A: I don’t want to see any differentiation between any BJP or non-BJP states. Lynching is a horrible crime and whoever does it must be punished. Law should go after such elements and no other reasons or justifications should be given for mobs taking the law into their hands. It is the duty of government, especially state governments to maintain law and order. But I have to tell you, lynching has happened in all states, not BJP-ruled states in particular. Lynching is bad, let us put an end to it. No justification, no reason if someone is putting an end to life of someone, it is not permitted in the law.
Q: Unemployment is linked to lynching?
A: No amount of reasoning could defend such crime.
Q: Do you have a provision for rehabilitation of those excluded from the NRC list?
A: That is why I have said that there are many bridges to cross, then we will plan it. If only we would have shown such sympathy towards the people of the state who are suffering because of these illegal migrants. Their land, livelihood, jobs are being taken away. We don’t have concerns for any of that. They are facing cultural, demographic problems because of this section.