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Assam is the site of India’s thorniest illegal immigration problem. The draft of the first part of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam—a long-standing demand dating back to the 1979-85 agitation against illegal immigrants—released on Sunday is the first step towards addressing this. But it raises a number of questions.
Anyone on the 1951 NRC or on electoral rolls up to 24 March 1971—or who can prove that they are descendants of such a person—will be on the updated NRC. This could result in lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants being sussed out. But the pending Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which differentiates between illegal immigrants on the basis of religion, might complicate matters; it has already aroused suspicion in an Assam more concerned with cultural identity.
Second, there is no plan to deal with those found to be illegal immigrants. Mass deportation to Bangladesh is unfeasible. There is no agreement with Dhaka and 2018 is an election year there. Addressing Assamese grievances, potential economic disruption and the security fallout of a fluid and porous border will be a long process.