NEW DELHI — As 40 lakh residents of Assam contemplate the possibility of being stripped of their citizenship, senior functionaries of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) said the party is making preparations to assist Hindus who may not make it to final version of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
"We are clear that the Hindu immigrants will be first put in shelter camps and then suitably rehabilitated once the infrastructure is in place," the senior functionary told HuffPost India. "If the Assamese have an issue, we can always send them to the other states."
Another influential source in the BJP was candid that the party was looking to leverage the uncertainty surrounding the fate of those excluded from the list.
"The government's in no hurry to execute all the three D's implicit in the NRC, that is detection, deletion (from electoral rolls) and deportation," the source said. "Part one, detection, is done and that's a big achievement considering that the previous Congress and Asom Gana Parishad governments had done nothing."
Interviews with ruling party members suggested that the party felt the NRC had accomplished its aims of putting a divisive issue on the national agenda without resolving it, thereby allowing political parties of all stripes to use it to their ends.
On Thursday, the party's general secretary and Assam minder Ram Madhav went on television channels to drive home the party's message.
"No country allows illegal infiltration across its borders. We have been championing this cause for more than three decades," Madhav said. "India cannot tolerate this, this kind of illegal infiltration can't go on forever."
Madhav rejected the charge that the BJP was communal.
"It's not about Hindus or Muslims but about Bangladeshi infiltrators occupying large tracts of land," he said.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is one of the few political leaders to have taken a clear stand against the NRC process, warning that the process would lead to a "bloodbath and a civil war".
Banerjee has been in New Delhi since July 31, and has called on a spectrum of leaders such as BJP's LK Advani, BJP rebels Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha, Sonia Gandhi from the Congress and the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.
"This has grave implications throughout the country because our cities are cosmopolitan. Even certain states have diverse population," Banerjee told HuffPost India. "Why go on and on about Bangladesh? You are maligning a sovereign country. We agreed to take in all those who came into India before 1971 as citizens, so why treat them as aliens?"
Banerjee said the BJP was forcing a divide among the largely Bengali-speaking people, identified as "foreigners", on Hindu-Muslim lines.
The BJP's long-established stand is that the Hindu immigrants should be regarded as "refugees" who allegedly fled to India to escape religious persecution, while the Muslims were "infiltrators" who should be expelled.
"The 40 lakh list has Hindus and Muslims," Banerjee said. "But saying this will cause commotion."
Banerjee claimed that "many" of those excluded had voted the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 assembly elections.
"The BJP is actually losing its voters by making a song-and-dance of this. Out of some two crore voters, 40 lakh could be disenfranchised," she said.
Interviews with Congress representatives suggested that the party was still evolving a coherent response to the NRC.
"The Congress should claim ownership over the NRC because the NRC was a fallout of the Assam Accord," said Paban Singh Ghatowar, a former MP and a former union minister from Assam, noting that the accord was signed by the Centre, at the direction of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and representatives of the Assam students unions.
However, the central leadership appeared to strike a balance between mollifying their Assam unit, and the party's broader national aims.
"Caution must be exercised," said a senior Congressman with a national brief. "Under the guise of identifying foreigners, genuine citizens must not be victimised."
Asked if the Congress had a well-defined position, a senior leader said, "Yes, the NRC and the exercise of detecting and deleting foreigners from the citizenship list (of Assam) is our baby but we do not wish to go to town claiming ownership."
"This is not going to be a long-drawn affair," the leader claimed, "because bread-and-butter issues impinging directly on people's lives will take over the pre-election discourse."
Rajnath On A Limb
The NRC has also revealed a now familiar gulf between Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who has positioned himself as a moderate voice within a party increasingly willing to stake out extreme positions.
"No coercive action will be taken against anyone. Hence there is no need for anyone to panic," Singh told reporters on July 30, a day before the list was released. "This is a draft, not a final list."
In contrast, many in the BJP said the 40 lakh "ghuspetiyan", or trespassers, must be expelled as soon as possible.
A central minister from the BJP placed the seeming contradiction in perspective.
"We have to consider our relations with Bangladesh, a friendly country. Hence the home minister measured the words," he said. "The BJP has no such compulsion but the party line has prevailed over everything else. India cannot be a sanctuary for all kinds of elements. Somebody had to recognise this reality and act. We did it."