GUWAHATI: Supreme Court lawyer Upamanyu Hazarika on Wednesday slammed the governing Bharatiya Janata Party for trying to attack Prateek Hajela, coordinator of the National Register of Citizens in the state.

Hazarika said the BJP’s singular obsession was to include “Hindu Bangladeshis” in the NRC and grant them citizenship.

The Congress party has also criticised the BJP for trying to halt the process.

“With the final NRC publication nearing its date on August 31, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and the leaders of the ruling party have started blaming all and sundry, particularly the co-ordinator of the NRC, Prateek Hajela for what is evidently going to be an NRC riddled with flaws, which will include a large number of foreigners,” said Hazarika, who is also convenor of the Prabajan Virodhi Mancha or the Anti-Immigration Forum.

The NRC is being updated for the first time after 1951 in Assam in a bid to discover undocumented immigrants in the state, and strip them of citizenship.

Those who have been left out in the three lists published so far wait anxiously for the final list on August 31 which will seal their fate – probably the most crucial day of their lives.

The NRC is being updated in a government exercise monitored by the Supreme Court. Questions of the constitutionality and legality of the NRC process are still pending with the Supreme Court. So far, the register has left out more than 41 lakh people out of the 3.29 crore applicants.

In Assam in the 1980s, a six-year agitation was launched by local residents to drive out those who had entered the state illegally. The crisis arose from large-scale immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh, primarily of refugees.

The final NRC in the state is supposed to record only the names of individuals who were living here before March 24, 1971 or whose ancestors resided here before the date.

All residents are supposed to prove this by submitting government-issued documents prior to that date. The burden of proof has weighed disproportionately on the poor.

“The government and leaders of the ruling party are now trying to shift the blame which squarely rests upon them.

“Since the beginning of the NRC process, the BJP has been in power at the Centre as well as the State, and all along whenever discrepancies in the NRC process came to light, be it officers or personnel caught on video seeking bribes, foreigners being deployed in the NRC process, daily reports in the media of subversion of the NRC process, the government and leaders were only too happy to turn a blind eye,” said Hazarika.

“Their singular obsession was to include Hindu Bangladeshis and grant them citizenship. They weren’t even bothered about large scale inclusion of foreigners in the draft NRC,” he added.

The lawyer also recalled how CM Sonowal had upon publication of the first NRC draft described it as “historic”, being an important milestone for the protection of people “indigenous” to the state.

“The same Chief Minister Sonowal and the state BJP president, Ranjeet Kumar Dass and other leaders are now crying foul over the inclusion of large number of foreigners in the NRC, saying that remedial measures for exclusion of foreigners from the NRC will be taken by means of new legislation.

“This is a clear admission of failure on their part, of doing nothing at the right time when it was required. It is the officers and personnel of the state government who were deployed in the NRC process, and at the time such personnel were caught red-handed trying to subvert the NRC process, the government did nothing, no proceedings were drawn up against such officers,” Hazarika said.

Assam Congress president Ripun Bora alleged that it seemed the BJP government was trying to halt the update process by various means. Organisations like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a student wing of the RSS, and the Hindu Jagaran Mancha have staged protests in Guwahati against the NRC update process saying it is full of errors.

Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi also slammed the role of the BJP at Centre and state. Gogoi said that neither BJP government was serious enough about crucial issues like the NRC.

“I don’t think the BJP actually wants to solve the problem. I have not seen any cabinet committee to enquire if the NRC works are going smoothly or not.

“If not they should have raised the issue with the Centre earlier. They should have also informed the Supreme Court that NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela is not doing his work properly - if the state government is really unhappy,” Gogoi had said.