NEW DELHI, India (AFP) — India’s home affairs minister on Sunday said his government “will not allow a single illegal immigrant to stay,” as he visited Assam state, where a controversial citizenship register sparked uproar from the almost 2 million people excluded.
The register, feared to be a cover for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to expel Muslims, has ensnared thousands Muslims and many Hindus who are a vote bank for the party.
Senior figures in Modi’s party shied away from commenting on the list, published on Aug, 30, which sparked an outcry from BJP leaders over Hindus who were targeted for exclusion.
The home affairs ministry, paraphrasing a speech by Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah, said he was satisfied with the “timely completion of the process.”
Shah “added that the government will not allow a single illegal immigrant to stay back in the country,” the statement said.
Modi’s government says its National Register of Citizens (NRC), is aimed at weeding out “foreign infiltrators.”
Shah, Modi’s right-hand man, has said India must act against “infiltrators who were eating the country like termites.”
The language and policy reflect statements and policies by U.S. President Donald Trump, drawing criticism from human rights workers around the world.
During his visit, Shah was expected to be pressed by the local BJP leadership for his government to pass legislation to protect the rights of 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 appear to be factors.
Assam, a poor and isolated state of 33 million, is largely surrounded by Bangladesh and has long seen influxes of immigrants.
But under the NRC, only those who can demonstrate that they or their forebears were in India before 1971 can be included in the list.
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, can appeal that decision through the notoriously backlogged Indian courts.
The national government insists that those omitted will not become stateless.
Referring Modi’s New Delhi’s contentious move on Aug. 5 to strip autonomy from the part of Muslim-majority Kashmir India controls, Shah said his government would not revoke another constitutional clause for several states — mostly in the northeast.
The Article 371 clause, which also covers Assam, is meant to preserve the local cultures of those states.
“I have clarified in parliament that this is not going to happen and I am saying it again today in Assam,” Shah said.
Opposition politicians have questioned Modi’s government on whether those rights would also be scrapped along with Kashmir’s.
Under its previous autonomy, Kashmiris enjoyed privileges, such as the sole right to own land or take government jobs and university scholarships.
New Delhi has yet to lift the strict lockdown and curfews, which have shut off India-controlled Kashmir from the rest of the world.
© Agence France-Presse