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NRC Bogey

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Come election time and the worst emerges in the competition to direct public opinion behind some inflammatory cause or the other. Heightened emotions help cover governance deficiencies that cooler minds would normally focus on. This is exactly what is happening during the ongoing panchayat elections in Uttarakhand. Irrespective of how much they might know about the subject, politicians of every hue are raising the need for implementation of the NRC (National Register of Citizens) in the state. Those being targeted are people living in the slums of the state’s cities, some of whom could be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, but might just as well be the poor from states like Bihar, West Bengal, etc. Considering that identity politics has always been strong in the region ever since the agitation against the Mandal Commission recommendations (that also boosted the separate state movement), the Congress, in particular, is loath to stand up for the migrants’ basic human rights. The voters must carefully examine the implications of the NRC. It is already being misconstrued by politicians for electoral gain in other parts, most notoriously by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who attempted to equate people from Bihar with illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. It is most important to understand that the seepage from Bangladesh into the North Eastern States, particularly Assam, has a long historical background that has no similarities with the situation that exists in Uttarakhand. Almost all those who have settled here over the years have done so for economic reasons, which basically means there were unfilled job opportunities, and work that needed to be done, a necessity that has been fulfilled. They neither represent a political or communal agenda, nor a cultural invasion. It is also important to understand – as in the case of migrants being sought to be pushed out of the US, these days – the local economy really needs them. If by some stupid turn of fate, they were made to leave, it would trigger a severe economic crisis. Another important factor that needs to be considered is that, with the dramatic upturn in the Bangladesh economy, immigration has considerably decreased. There are very few of them coming to a faraway destination like Uttarakhand. It is possible that first generation immigrants could be denied voting rights, but those born and brought up in India ought to be fully integrated. There are some who say India is not a dharamshala, but actually it has been exactly that over the past ten thousand years and more. True, some have forced their way in, but many sought refuge and were graciously granted that. They have enriched India in many ways. India cannot change now for narrow electoral reasons.