Indian Express makes a meal out of untruths on Assam’s NRC

Ghuspethiya, Indian Express, Amit Shah, Prateek Hajela, Supreme Court, NRC draft, Assam, NCP, TMC,  Bangladesh, Kashmiri Pandits

Indian Express: unethical

This is so very unethical on the part of Indian Express. For last three days, it is carrying sob stories of people who have been declared “illegal” in Assam. Today, it has photos of six persons on front page (Delhi edition), all Muslims, who have been left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft exercise carried out in Assam on Supreme Court mandate. (It couldn’t find an “illegal” Hindu of similar anxiety).

The  headlines, wall-to-wall coverage for the last three days have headlines which imply to a casual reader that either (a) the verification process is flawed; (b) or Muslims are having a raw deal in Assam; and worse the impression that (c) Centre is somehow puppeteering the show. Mark the headlines: “School teacher, one of twins (uncounted)” or “Aren’t we thinking of another Partition,” or “40 lakh not in register can’t be called illegal, says Assam official behind NRC.”  On its Page 6, for two days running, it has carried interviews of MPs from NCP and TMC who naturally are accusing “Government of using NRC to exclude millions.”

When even my dog knows that this entire exercise is (a) Supreme Court mandated; (b) that not just Muslims but also thousands of Hindus don’t find their names in NRC draft (c) that it’s not final; (d) that there is no extradition treaty with Bangladesh; (d) that nobody is going nowhere, what interests Indian Express to inflame rather than douse people’s anxiety and fears? Don’t they have a responsibility not to widen the polarization between Hindus and Muslims? A sense of guilt if god forbids, communal rioting breaks out in the country? Not to convey to millions of Muslims in this country, by wrongly citing Assam, they are being discriminated against?  That it’s not a communal exercise by the Modi government?

Look at their interview today with Prateek Hajela, SC appointed state-coordinator of the NRC exercise. What impression you draw with the front page lead headline: “40 Lakh not in register can’t be called illegal.” The lead story then starts with the intro that “a day after Amit Shah said the NRC would weed out “ghuspethiye” (infiltrators), Hajela calls such description too premature.” Now look at the transcript of the interview. Express carries on Page 7:

Q:  Can we say that 40 lakh people are ghuspethiye?

A:  We can’t say all these 40 lakh are ghuspethiye.

Mark the leading question. Look at the answer. When did Amit Shah say ALL 40 lakh people are ghuspethiye? Where does Hajela say that NONE of them are ghuspethiye?  Further, Indian Express never draws the distinction between infiltrators and illegals. It somehow seems to know that none of these 40-lakh people are ghuspethiye. It seems to know more than Supreme Court, 52,000 workers, an exercise of last 5 years, to arch its eyebrows on the intentions and methods of NRC exercise.

Further, the mocking style that “one of the twins is not in the list; nor is an NRC field officer; nor an ex-MLA.” One can understand Express is short on knowledge on the issue. But when Hajela himself says (below); isn’t it their responsibility to stop emotional anarchy?

“There are a large number of cases where the husband may be a pre-’71 resident, but the wife may not be. Conversely, it’s possible that the wife may be a pre-’71 resident, but husband has come after ’71. (NRC) is an individual and not a family census. Thus it’s possible that some people in a family have been able to establish their credentials while others have not been able to do so.”

There you are, clear as crystal. But Indian Express likes getting muddy. Not only it spreads false impression, the interviewer also tries to browbeat Hajela with questions such as : “Have you faced political pressure?” When Hajela explains his constitutional position, another question fired is: “Has there been any instance when you have to inform the Supreme Court that you were facing political pressure?” Again Hajela is no help. So another question: “You are beating around the bush. Can you say that you have got calls from political leaders?” Hajela’s expression of disgust, we all can visualize.

I mean what is this all? That’s all you can ask the NRC co-ordinator? No technical details but only insinuations? Conspiracies? Plots? Don’t they realize that fears and insecurities could spark riots in Assam and elsewhere in India? That thus the “civil war” which has escaped the lips of Mamata Banerjee could actually take a shape?

And if Express is so concerned about people getting displaced within their own state –nobody is going anywhere and the newspaper knows it—why not have a series on Kashmiri Pandits displaced from the Valley?

More by Ashish Shukla