MonitorsPublished on Sep 09, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 36

India:  NRC in Assam: Impediments and uncertainties

Ambar Kumar Ghosh

The tedious and protracted process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 in Assam seems to have reached its completion as the “final” list of the NRC was published on 31 August, 2019. The list reveals that the names of 19.07 lakh people have been excluded from the latest updated NRC.

The NRC formulation process was initiated in the backdrop of the massive agitation in Assam by the indigenous residents against the “massive” flow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh into the State. It was largely apprehended that there was a large scale exodus of Bengali population from the erstwhile East Pakistan, in the backdrop of the civil war in the run up to the liberation war and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

It was during the election of 1978 in Assam that the sudden rise in the population of Assam came to the forefront. This triggered a long-drawn and violent anti-foreigners agitation by the local Assamese people based on the apprehension that such humongous presence of Bangladeshi immigrants in the State will substantially cause detrimental impact on the political, economic and cultural dynamics of Assam.

After years of incessant turbulence, the Assam Accord was signed in 1985 which mandated the process of updating the NRC of 1951 to detect and deport the illegal migrants who came to India after the cutoff date of 24 March, 1971. But, despite the accord, years of political reluctance led to the delay in the process until the Supreme Court of India took it upon itself to facilitate the process in 2013. However, as the list is finally out after six years of scrutiny and verification, significant questions remain unanswered regarding the procedure and outcome of the process.

Procedural labyrinth

First, the process of ascertaining the citizenship of a person has caused massive huge hue and cry due to the insurmountable technical impediments that such a task involves. While it might be true that the process conducted under the auspices of the apex court has been largely robust and the possibility of intended biases and prejudices in the process might be minimum.

But to be technically transparent in accurately ascertaining the citizenship and identity of a populace, who might have migrated under adversarial and unfavourable historical, political and social circumstances, is undoubtedly a herculean feat. The process of scrutiny that required the people to produce vintage documents to establish their national identity, which was subjected to verification by bureaucratic arbitrariness, diluted the transparency in maintaining the yardsticks to ascertain a person’s citizenship.

Moreover, the poor, impoverished, unlettered and rural sections of people were exposed to unimaginable struggle as they were more likely to be unable to furnish the requisite documents to prove their nationality, given their lack of awareness and capacity regarding conservation of such documents. Especially, the women population of the lower strata was further more at the receiving end in the scrutiny process, given their complex identity dynamics in the quagmire of their pre-marriage and post-marriage name, which makes it difficult to establish their proper legacy documents.

As the people had to travel with their family considerable distance for appearing in the NRC verification centres, the entire process took a huge financial toll on the poor people. Even after the list is out, the process of filling fresh appeals for reverification of documents for the people whose names are excluded in the current list will be tedious and expensive that is shrouded in the garb of further uncertainty.

Furthermore, the Foreigners Tribunal (FT), which is mandated to hear the appeals, is few in numbers considering the possibility of   appeals from 19 lakhs applicants. The FTs are usually comprised of lawyers with no prior judicial experience, thus indicating that the re-verification process based on the fresh appeals might be arbitrary and devoid of complete transparency.

Unknown outcome

Besides the process, it is the question of the consequence of the NRC updating process which looms large. It is still not clear that after the detection of illegal immigrants, how the government would deal with them. There are a number of ominous speculations about the possibilities -- that is further spreading the fear amongst the people.

First, the possibility of deporting the foreigners back to Bangladesh is implausible as Bangladesh has never admitted, and is unlikely to admit in the future, that these immigrants are residents of Bangladesh. Instead, they have always maintained that NRC is an internal matter of India.

Second, the possibility of detaining such huge number of immigrants in jails would turn Assam virtually into a “prison-state” which is also an imprudent eventuality. Third, the government of Assam might try to convince other friendly States in India to share the demographic burden. Even that would require intense political parleys and compromises.

Lastly, there is a speculation that the voting and property rights of such immigrants would be taken away and instead be given special work permit with certain “essential “ services like health and education which would render a huge section of people second class citizens. Since, no clear communication on the part of the government or political leadership has been done yet, uncertainty and ambiguity looms large over the ultimate outcome of process.

While, given the enormity and complexity of the issue, it is unlikely that the process would see its final closure any time soon, the legitimacy of the process is also questioned by various political parties. So, the vexed issue of illegal immigrants in Assam might continue to remain a bone of contention in the political discourse of Assam in the near future.

Bhutan: Charting new horizons in India cooperation

Mihir Bhonsale

Keeping with the spirit of ‘special ties’ and multitude angles and sectors of cooperation between India and Bhutan, the state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Thimphu on 17-18 August saw an expansion in the horizons of bilateral cooperation.  Besides, the important hydropower sector that is Bhutan’s largest export item to India, areas ventured in included space technology, digital payments platform and aviation technology.

Given the priorities of the present government in Bhutan on bridging the gap between the ‘haves and have-nots’ and providing affordable healthcare to its’ people, the Indian Prime Minister spoke about initiatives such as the world’s largest healthcare programme Ayushman Bharat and the country’s progress in eliminating poverty.

Transition to trade

The new avenues of cooperation sought by the two countries reflect Bhutan’s objective of becoming self-reliant and boosting its economy through increasing exports and tilting the trade balance its favour. India committed a transitional trade support facility of INR 400 crore that Bhutan could avail over a period of five years for strengthening bilateral trade and economic exchanges.

Bhutan seeks to diversify its economy from that of aid-centred to trade-centred. In 2018, Bhutan’s bilateral trade with India reached Nu. 9228 crore. The single largest export of Bhutan to India was hydropower and Modi inaugurated the 720 MW Mangdecchu hydropower project, which is expected to generate 3,008 million units of electricity annually and contribute net revenue of Nu 5.6 billion.

The thrust on exploring cooperation beyond government initiatives was evident in the joint statement issued by the governments. At a time when Bhutan is looking to expand and bring in a mix in its revenue basket, forging business-to-business ties between the two countries is essential.

Narendra Modi, during his visit, spoke about the spiralling of business start-ups in India and that Bhutan could also take inspiration from it especially when the latter seeks to institute measures to promote new business start-ups and strengthen existing ones through targeted interventions to create more jobs and diversify its economy. Bhutan is also considering revision of its Foreign Direct Investment Policy and the CSI policy to enable investment and private sector growth.

Closely following the heels of Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Thimphu, the latter gave its approval for an additional USD 100 million under the Standby Swap Arrangement. Bhutan already had a USD 100 million under the SAARC Currency Swap Framework agreement since 2013 which essentially meant that Bhutan in return for an equivalent amount of Ngultrums could take INR up to USD 100 million for a period of six months with no loan interest rate.

Road ahead

Having discussed some of the contours of bilateral cooperation in the days to come, certain issues would test economic diplomacy between the two sides. The joint statement issued by the two countries during the state visit by Prime Minister Modi mentioned the Sankosh hydropower project that Bhutan is keen on beginning under the term of the present government.

Also, Thimphu would be eyeing the successful completion of the Punatsangcchu-I and II projects that have witnessed delays and are expected to be commissioned in 2024-25 and 2022-2023 respectively. Lest it may be said, hydropower is the biggest avenue for Bhutan to narrow the trade gap and emerge into an economy that is based on trade.

Prime Minister Modi, during the visit, congratulated Bhutan for its imminent graduation into a middle income country. This transition of Bhutan opens new opportunities for expansion in the bilateral cooperation as well as presents challenges in cooperation.

Country Reports


Afghans prefer peace over presidential polls

According to the results of a new poll, 69 per cent of Afghans prefer peace over presidential elections. Almost five thousand people participated in the poll from across the country. The results of the poll come as the ninth round of peace talks have been concluded between the Taliban and the US Special Envoy for peace process in Afghanistan, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad. Recent reports also suggest that the US prefers to conclude the peace deal before the elections.

Concerns over peace draft

The government of Afghanistan has sought clarifications about the peace agreement drafted between the Taliban and the US. The concerns are mainly regarding the impact of the peace agreement. There is an apprehension that the complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in the absence of sustainable peace could prove to be a dangerous situation.  This comes as the US Special Envoy for peace process in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad recently shared the draft agreement with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.


Kashmir,’ India’s internal matter’ 

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen informed his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi that India’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution are India’s internal matter. Foreign Minister expressed his opinion during his telephonic discussion with Qureshi. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution granted special status to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In August this year, India declared abrogation of Article 370, which has angered Pakistan which has been supporting separatist movement in the State. Qureshi had called Foreign Minister to seek his support against India. It is worthy to note that Bangladesh attained independence from Pakistan after a bloody war in 1971 and the current relations between the two countries lukewarm.

No national in Indian NRC 

Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen has categorically said that people excluded in the final list of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) are not Bangladeshis. He further said that NRC is India’s internal issue. Meanwhile, Border Guards of Bangladesh have been put on alter and vigilance is increased in the areas bordering the State of Assam in India to prevent any form of trespassing. NRC was conducted in Assam to register Indian citizens as the State is claimed to have been facing the problem of infiltration from Bangladesh. 1.9 million persons have been excluded from the NRC list making them vulnerable to be stateless since their citizenship is questioned.

Threat to UN agencies? 

A German news agency claimed that Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen had observed that United Nations agencies might be expelled from the country if they do not support the government’s plan of relocating 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an island in the Bay of Bengal. The media claimed that Momen’s comments came during his interview. Momen is believed to have expressed his disappointment with the UN’s failure to pressurise Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya refugees. Foreign policy analysis in Bangladesh has expressed doubt about the authenticity of the minister’s comment. Around 700,000 Rohingyas, an ethnic group from neighbouring Myanmar, had fled to Bangladesh to escape atrocities on them by Myanmar’s security forces in the aftermath of an attack by a Rohingya armed group in the camps of security forces in Myanmar in August 2017.


Employment DG to stay

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) has decided not to suspend Sherab Tenzin, the director-general of the department of employment and human resources. The decision comes after the Anti-Corruption Commission wrote to RCSC to suspend Tenzin in connection with alleged corruption in the two different overseas employment programmes in Japan and India. He was charged for four counts of offences at the Thimphu dzongkhag Court on August 23. RCSC will wait for the court verdict to take action on Sherab Tenzin.

Concern over mining bill

Private miners have proposed some pertinent changes in the royalty and mineral rent and community development fund (CDF) in the Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan, 2020. A joint report by Association of Bhutanese Industries (ABI) and Bhutanese Exporters Association (BEA) has also been submitted to the economic and finance committee of the National Assembly.

Convicted for gold-smuggling

Paro dzongkhag court on 2 September has sentenced four farmers from Tsento to two and a half years to five-year non-compoundable prison term for smuggling, solicitation, aiding and abetting in connection with the import of 20kg gold biscuits from the northern border. Chencho Tshering had conspired to import 20kg gold from the Tibetan border of Kerila and to smuggle out to India.


Assam NRC final list out

The final list of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has been published on 31 August at 10 A.M. More than 19 lakh people were excluded from the final version. NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela revealed that a total of 3,11,21,004 people have been found eligible for inclusion in the final version of the NRC. This leaves out a total of 19,06,657 people, including those who did not submit their claims. Hajela further informed that those not satisfied with the outcome can file their appeal before Foreigners’ Tribunals.

Major bank merger

The central government has announced a major decision of merging 10 public sector banks into four. On one hand, the government has claimed that the proposed move would enhance credit capacity. On the other hand, there are serious concerns that the creation of larger banks could make the banking system more vulnerable.

Terrorists under new law

The Ministry of Home Affairs have declared Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Massod Azhar, Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, his deputy Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and underworld don Bawood Ibrahim who planned and executed the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts are the first four person designated as “terrorists” under the new Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is the anti-terror law passed by the Indian Parliament on 2 August. USA has recently extended its support to this move by India of naming the terrorists along with the terrorist organizations.


Al-Qaeda behind murder

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry, conferred with policing and prosecution powers under a new parliamentary law, has concluded that local Al-Qaeda affiliates were behind the brutal murder of ‘liberal’ journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, 28, working for the Maldives Independent, who went disappeared from near his home five years ago. The commission, after examination of witnesses, some of them ‘secret witnesses’, in its report to Parliament, also said that the Al-Qaeda terror group affiliate in the country has since split, and there is now a faction working as the local group of another global terror group, IS. President Ibrahim Solih has since promised Rilwan’s family that the Government would render ‘justice’, as the family, former colleagues and friends of the murdered journalists have been holding periodic protests in capital Male since his ‘disappearance’, wanting to know about his fate.

Nasheed apologises

After telling a youth conference of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), headed by him, not to expect the government to give every cadre ‘something’ now that the party is in power, Parliament Speaker and former President, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, apologised to the cadres, who were upset with his reported comments.  Nasheed claimed he was misquoted by the media.

Call to South Asian nations

In his address to the fourth Indian Ocean Conference, off capital Male, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has called for greater cooperation among South Asian nations to address regional challenges, saying that there were no effective institutions for cooperation among them. Earlier, a Pakistani delegate created commotion by bringing in bilateral relations with India, over New Delhi’s abrogation of Article 370 in relation to Jammu & Kashmir State, and a leading counterpart from India responding to it, in equally strong terms.


No phones for Rohingyas

Bangladesh on 2 September ordered operators to shut down mobile phone services to almost one million Rohingya refugees living in camps. This move comes after violence in camps and also following the second repatriation failure. Telecommunications operators have been given seven days to submit reports on the actions they have taken to shut down networks in the camps citing security reasons. The order has stunned the Rohingyas. This ban would hugely affect Rohingya life, disrupting communications between different camps or family living in Myanmar.

Bettering ties with S. Korea

Myanmar and South Korea have inked a series of agreements on economic and infrastructure development during South Korean President Moon Jae’s visit to Nay Pyi Taw on 3 September. These include bilateral agreements for the construction of the Dala Bridge, or Korea-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, as well as the Korea-Myanmar Industrial Complex (KMIC) in Yangon. The president said South Korean investors would be encouraged to invest in the KMIC. The two governments also inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to conduct feasibility studies for the construction of the Dala Satellite City Project.


Foreign Minister in Maldives

Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali had a very enriching interaction with the Maldivian government. His meeting with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has been very fruitful with discussions ranging from migrant laborers to the usage of the Indian Ocean, which is very important for a landlocked country like Nepal. Both the countries had put in effort to identify the mutual areas of concern and potential collaboration to benefit the region as well as themselves as a whole.

Worries over ‘external sector’

Despite the growing economic rate of the Nepalese economy in the last three years, experts have raised concerns over the ‘worsening external sector’. Even the private sector could not move forward due to the high interest rates of banks. This economy has been said to be mainly remittance–led and consumption based which might not be sustainable in the long run.

NC ‘raises voice’

The Nepali Congress has been very vocal about the added pressure that the constitutional bodies are being given by the Oli government. A 17-point allegation has also been filed. It has been alleged that the civil liberties are being infringed. Strong action has been demanded by the opposition in this regard. An investigation is also due.


PM takes to Twitter over Kashmir

Prime Minister Imran Khan took to the Twitter to question the silence of the international community over the persecution of the Muslims in the ‘Indian-occupied Kashmir’. According to him, this is the 32nd day of the siege by the Indian government and there have been gross violations of human rights. He is sceptical of the kind of message such events are conveying to the 1.3 billion Muslims across the globe.

Doctors seek access

Representatives of Pakistani doctors have recently sought permission from the Indian High Commission in Pakistan to provide them access to ‘Indian occupied Kashmir’ with medicines on humanitarian grounds. The doctors are also willing to go without cell phones. This comes as after prolonged curfew, supplies are reported to be falling short in the hospitals of Kashmir. According to the letter addressed to the deputy high commissioner of India, the doctors are concerned about public health and the health care situation.

Sri Lanka

MS signs extradition order

President Maithripala Sirisena has since signed the long-delayed extradition order for bringing back former Sri Lankan Central Bank (CB) governor, Arjuna Mahendran, for facing legal proceedings in the multi-billion dollar bonds scam case. Though expected for long, coming as it does weeks ahead of presidential poll notification, the extradition, if acted upon, could cause further embarrassment to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ruling United National Party (UNP), which is already facing stiff contest between the faction identified with him and that under deputy leader and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa.



Opinion Pieces

Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed, “Taliban Peace Talks Cast Uncertainty on Presidential Vote”, The New York Times, 29 August 2019

Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Will the US-Taliban Agreement End War in Afghanistan?”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 29 August 2019


Afghanistan Times, “On the way to economic prosperity”, 5 September 2019

Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Why Republicanism Matters for Afghans”, 4 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Joshua Kurlantzick, “What Happens if Rohingya Stay in Bangladesh Forever?”,Council on Foreign Relations, 4 September 2019

Syed Mansur Hashim, “Donors’ interest in Rohingya crisis waning?”,The Daily Star, 3 September  2019


The Daily Star, “Is the NRC exclusion really India’s internal issue?”, 6 September 2019




Opinion Pieces

Krishna Kumar, “Teaching in the time of consumerism”, The Hindu, 6 September 2019

Yogindra K. Alagh, “Measures to arrest economic slowdown are a good first move”, The Indian Express, 6 September 2019

Surajit Nundy, “NMC Bill persists with old tendency of centralization”, The Indian Express, 5 September 2019

Gautam Bhatia, “Jurisprudence of the judicial rubber stamp”, The Hindu, 5 September 2019

Vinoy Vishwam, “Government has laid out red carpet for foreign capital, which is unreliable in long run”, The Indian Express, 4 September 2019

Sankarshan Thakur, “Kashmir Lockdown: It’s been a month”, The Telegraph, 4 September 2019

Afaq Hussain & Nikita Singla, “Putting the skids under border trade”, The Hindu, 4 September 2019

Pulapre Balakrishnan, “Banking on the banks for expansion”, The Hindu, 2 September 2019


The Indian Express, “Owning the Problem”, 6 September 2019

The Times of India, “Liveability sliding: Urgently called for reforms also include municipal governance. Only cities can drive growth”, 6 September 2019

The Hindu, “Listen to the Unspoken, On Kashmir Lookdown”, 5 September 2019

The Indian Express, “For Children’s Sake”, 4 September 2019

The Indian Express, “The Healing Touch”, 4 September 2019

The Hindu, “Life in a Balance: On Kalbhushan Jadhav”, 4 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Al Qaeda affiliates highlighted in Maldives”,, 6 September 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Maldives: Solih begins taking rough with the smooth”,, 2 September 2019

Sonu Shivdasani, “It’s not only political prisoners who need a fair judiciary – businesses, too,” The Edition, 2 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Joe Kumbun, “Myanmar’s Emerging Democracy is Being Eroded”, The Irrawaddy, 4 September 2019

Anne Bayin, “Lunch with a Myanmar Princess”, The Irrawaddy, 3 September 2019

Lee Sang-Hwa, “Future of Korea and Myanmar: A Win-Win for Peace and Prosperity”, The Irrawaddy, 30 August 2019


Opinion Pieces

Yogesh Bhattarai, “Tourism thrives on teamwork”, The Kathmandu Post, 5 September 2019

Sukhdev Singh, “Distancing India”, Republica, 4 September 2019


The Himalayan Times, “Ensure media freedom”, 5 September 2019

The Kathmandu Post, “The government should prepare a plan to achieve total literacy”, 4 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Faisal Bari, “Reforming institutions”, Dawn, 6 September 2019

Syed Mohammad Ali, “Disenfranchising and its discontents”, The Express Tribune, 6 September 2019


Dawn, “Inflation rebasing”, 6 September 2019

The Express Tribune, “Vigorous diplomatic offensive”, 6 September 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajan Philips, “A tale of three PMs: Narendra Modi, Boris Johnson and Ranil Wickremesinghe”, The Island, 8 September 2019

Rajeewa Wijeweeera, “Hobson’s choice with presidential candidates”, The Island, 8 September 2019

M S M Ayub, “Abolition of presidency to eschew poll: Praying for rain to avoid match defeat”, Daily Mirror Online, 6 September 2019

C A Chandraprema, “Half a President and half a PM”, The Island, 6 September 2019

Kusal Perera, “19-A irrelevant for next President”, Daily Mirror Online, 4 September 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: Why is no one talking about an ‘insolvent’ economy?”, Ceylon Today, 3 September 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: Aping Tamil Nadu, the electoral way”, Colombo Gazette, 2 September 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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