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No illegal immigrant will stay in India, says India after Assam register excludes millions

Threat comes after controversial project in border state that forced 33 m residents to prove their heritage

WT24 Desk

India’s home affairs minister has said his government “will not allow a single illegal immigrant to stay” amid outcry over a citizenship register in Assam that could leave almost 2 million people stateless, Agencies report.

The comment were made by Amit Shah during a visit to the border state. The home affairs ministry, paraphrasing Shah’s speech, said he was satisfied with the “timely completion of the process”.

Over the past four years, about 33 million people in Assam have been forced to prove they are citizens by demonstrating they have roots in the state dating to before March 1971. Shah, prime minister Narendra Modi’s right-hand man, has previously said India must act against “infiltrators who were eating the country like termites”.

Lawyers have raised serious concerns over the process, which they say has wrongly excluded people on the basis of minor clerical errors in decades-old documents. There are fears that Muslims, women and the poorest communities could be the worst affected.

Senior figures in the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) had so far shied away from commenting on the list, published on 30 August.

Modi’s government had backed the National Register of Citizens (NRC), saying it was aimed at weeding out “foreign infiltrators”.

During his visit, Shah was expected to be urged by the local BJP leadership to pass legislation to protect the rights of people it says are genuine citizens excluded from the list.

While there are no clear answers as to how or why individuals have been included or excluded, bureaucratic bungling amid the mountains of paperwork appears to be one factor.

Assam is largely surrounded by Bangladesh and has long seen influxes of migrants.

Shah did not make further comments about the NRC. Those left off the register have 120 days to appeal at foreigners tribunals, and if they fail, they can appeal against that decision through the courts.

The national government has stressed that those omitted will not become stateless.

Touching on New Delhi’s contentious move on 5 August to strip autonomy from Kashmir, Shah said his government would not revoke another constitutional clause for several states – most in the northeast.

The Article 371 clause, which also covers Assam, is aimed at preserving the local culture of those states. “I have clarified in parliament that this is not going to happen and I am saying it again today in Assam,” he said.

Opposition politicians had questioned Modi’s government on whether those special rights would also be scrapped after the Kashmir move.

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