Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) is perhaps the first potent policy weapon we have used against continuing economic and cultural takeover of Bharat in the past 700-800 years. We must extend it to the rest of India to — taking the four Ds of the late ’70s Assam agitation — detect, disenfranchise, and deport illegal immigrants, and clearly demarcate the border.

States like Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Nagaland have already started considering Assam-like register of citizens with the Centre’s help. Tripura may follow. Even Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are worried by the influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and possibly Rohingyas.

There could soon be a surprise addition: The Left-led Kerala government. If one takes two of the longest train journeys in India — Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari via Kerala on Vivek Express and Thiruvananthapuram-Silchar Superfast Express — the extent of southwards migration of illegal immigrants would be clear.

Make NRC a nationwide list

Perhaps no state in India is untouched by the Bangladeshi problem. It has been lately made more complex by the Rohingya Muslims who have sneaked in from Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine state and are under the intelligence radar for radicalisation by extremist groups.

Which is why India, and not just Assam, needs a watertight National Register of Citizens. And the Assam experiment promises to open the floodgates to a much-needed demographic reform. The Centre can independently start the process.

There has been much wailing in the so-called liberal media on 40 lakh people not finding their names on Assam’s NRC till now. The process is on, and by local estimates, another seven-eight lakh would be included in the list. What will happen to the estimated 32-33 lakh others, wonder the bleeding hearts.

Assam starts a wave

Well, were those people supposed to be there in the first place? Is any journalist, intellectual or human rights activist asking about those local, bona fide citizens whose land, livelihoods and prosperity the intruders snatched away?

Illegal immigrants should be given work permits, argue some. Why? Did they come here after getting visas stamped? With work permits, are we to pave way for their children getting full citizenship and usher demographic change through the backdoor?

What Assam has done will have far-reaching consequences, for the good. Already, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who never lets an opportunity to appease minorities pass even at the cost of national interest, is nervous about a massive influx of Bangladeshi Muslims from Assam to Bengal. This will upset not just Bengal’s Hindus but also its Muslims. Nobody cheers for his or her land being taken over, livelihood put in peril.

Successful implementation of NRC — by which every legitimate citizen finds a place in the list — will become a nationwide template. It has already triggered a similar thinking in other states, and not just those with international borders. Even in the heart of Delhi, locals complain about immigrants taking over their land and jobs.

What can Centre do?

It will need tremendous political will and an extraordinary bureaucratic effort, but the Centre can push for a nationwide citizens’ registry. The Citizenship Act, 1955, and the Foreigners Act are on its side.

If it does, it is certainly going to be challenged in the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has already struck down the dubious Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act, which Rajiv Gandhi brought in 1985 — one of his many disastrous decisions. It made the first step of the four Ds, detection, almost impossible. The onus was put on the complainant to prove that a person has immigrated illegally.

On December 5, 2006, Justice SB Sinha and PK Balasubramanyan struck down the IMDT.

When court cracked down

Justice Sinha slammed the Rajiv regime for “devising an Act which had no teeth and which, instead of helping the identification, was intended to defeat identification”.

What the Supreme Court also observed could now be used to legislate along Assam lines in the rest of the country: “This Court opined that there was absolutely no reason why the illegal migrants coming into the state of Assam should be treated differently from those who had migrated to the other parts of the country having regard to the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964.”

So, why should illegal immigrants in the rest of the country be treated differently from those in Assam? Why shouldn’t rest of India have a citizens’ register too and weed out intruders? After all, the government is driving the current NRC process on the Supreme Court’s instruction.

The silent monster

During Partition, for instance, West Bengal had 12% Muslims and East Bengal had 30% Hindus. Today, because of unchecked Bangladeshi influx, Bengal’s Muslim population has increased to 27% and in Bangladesh, persecution and forced conversions of Hindus has dwindled their numbers to 8%.

Census 2011 shows that in Assam, Muslims grew by 29.6% mainly because of illegal Bangladeshi immigration, which is nearly three times that of Hindus who grew at 10.9%.

Assam’s citizens’ register draws first blood in our hitherto losing war against demographic takeover. The Centre should ready its heavy artillery now.