Assam, or at least one-third of it, is on the boil and the nation is shaken; and this cannot simply be a storm in the tea cup. With 10 districts under ban orders, flights cancelled or disrupted and train services stopped, curfew clamped and army called out, the situation in the state has all the hallmarks of a grave crisis.

Overall, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) by both houses of Parliament this week caused serious apprehensions in the minds of the people in the state and beyond. What incensed the natives is that several lakhs of refugees – of the Hindu stock — from Bangladesh will be granted citizenship and not sent back to the neighbouring country. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) list had excluded large sections of both Hindus and Muslims, but the BJP government now wants to act in a selective or rather discriminatory manner via CAB. This is an issue by itself and makes Muslims more incensed.

The outcome of the NRC, also based on the Assam Accord which guaranteed identification and deportation of illegal migrants, and done under supervision of the Supreme Court, has not been to the liking of the ruling BJP; it had not expected such a large Hindu segment to be seen outside of the NRC. CAB is seen principally as a step to absorb the Hindu migrants into the mainstream and send the Muslims packing, with political aims in West Bengal as well. Now, the Centre is insistent on extending the NRC exercise to the entire nation.

The good side of the NRC and CAB are not to be lost sight of. No nation can allow unbridled migrations, more so India which has a bulging 1.35 billion population. That it allowed its borders to be left without any checks was a national disaster in itself. There is the need for corrective steps, but this be done in a manner that sensitivities are not ignored and ground realities taken into proper account.

Large numbers of poor do not have land to hold on to, nor a home or hearth worth mention. Expecting of them to have kept proper domicile records, or proven their residence through local administration certificates is unreasonable. The fear in the minds of large sections of migrant Muslims is both palpable and painful. So are the apprehensions of the native Assamese in the present context. Prime Minister Modi’s soothing words alone will not do. Every effort should be made to ensure the situation does not go out of control.

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