Responding to Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament on Wednesday that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would soon be a pan-India exercise irrespective of religion, firebrand politician Mamata Banerjee challenged the Central government to impose it in her state of West Bengal.
Addressing a rally of her Trinamool Congress (TMC) party supporters in the state’s Murshidabad district, Banerjee said nobody has the right to take away any person's citizenship, or make him or her a refugee.
Calling on India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party to come clean on why the names of 1.4 million people, including Hindus, Muslims and Bengalis, had been left out of the final NRC published on 31 August in Assam state, the West Bengal chief said the exercise can never be implemented across India.
"A few people are trying to foment trouble in the state (West Bengal) by saying that the NRC exercise will be carried out in Bengal. I would like to make it very clear that we will never allow the NRC exercise in Bengal. We won't allow anybody to divide people on the basis of religion," she warned.
The state of West Bengal shares a porous and 2,216 km-long border with Bangladesh. About 30 percent of the region’s population is Muslim.
Home Minister Shah told members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, earlier in the day that the NRC does not have any provision that excludes people belonging to other religions.
The central government’s move to implement the NRC in West Bengal has created panic and claimed 11 lives so far.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) prepared in 1951, contains the names of Indian citizens of Assam. It was updated in 2014-16 which includes the persons and the families of those who appear in the NRC 1951 or in any of the electoral rolls up to the midnight of 24 March 1971.
During and after the 1971 India-Pakistan War, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, several thousand Muslims, as well as Hindus from the area (erstwhile East Pakistan; now Bangladesh), crossed over to India to take permanent shelter in Assam state.
Assam has witnessed persistent demands from pressure groups to revise the citizens' register as they believe illegal settlers have disrupted the state’s social fabric.
The ruling BJP has made it clear that all “illegal migrants” living in the country will be identified and weeded out, saying that India is not a destination for them.
Assam carried out the contentious exercise in August and September this year. The region faced large-scale public protests over the issue between 1979 and 1985.
The Indian government has categorically said it cannot take on the socio-economic burden of supporting outsiders nor can it afford to compromise national security.