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Recently, I came across two films dominated by a theme of an apocalyptic future, one of them was Avengers Infinity War and the other one was Mission: Impossible-Fallout. What makes them important for me is the political philosophy of the antagonists behind their zeal for a balance in the cosmos. The rationale behind their reasoning’s were crudely utilitarian at its core. In Avengers, Thanos wanted to wipe out half the population without any prejudice. While the other anarchist terrorist in Mission Impossible wanted to nuke half the population, as it would unveil an era of ‘greater peace’ after assumingly greater ‘suffering’. While going through the debates on utilitarianism I suddenly found these forms of reasoning to be a dominant theme surrounding the discourse around citizenship, justice and social good. Countries all over the world are going through a process of ‘protectionism’. India with itssubtext of privileging ‘soft-power’ through its moral ethos ‘atithi devo bhava’ is also under fire privileging the ‘reasons of state’. Hence the debate on questions of citizenship, justice andborder line hype-nationalism- have become more and more polemical and complex. Historical issues of movement, migration and mobility have suddenly taken short shrift over a period of time.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is one such complex historical process emerging out of long standing ethnic mass movement and the state constituted mandate of mapping out citizens and ‘illegal immigrants’. The discussions so far on after effects and processual inadequacies in itself has found little credence in the scheme of things. The larger debate on NRC at best can be described in terms of optimism of the will/faith and pessimism of the intellect. The polarization on Supreme Court led NRC, amongst intelligentsiaas well as people on the ground is predictable considering there is a consequentialist turn to the episode of update.The matrix of inclusion and exclusion of bonafide citizen is so near yet so far for all constituents of society. The repercussions of the debate seems to be so immense that NRC has ‘mainstreamed’ the discourse of Assam into one of the major poll planks for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The euphoria, fear and paranoia has created a double bind kind of situation where the ‘solution’ seems to generate affection and contempt based on which side of fence do we stand. The multiple narratives coming from Assam seem to suggest that the ‘civil society’ consensus on fair update of NRC is being contested considering that a huge mass of ‘population’ seems to have been left out in the preliminary draft.While the ‘real’ and ‘perceived’ reasons are being debated, the situation is that of impasse. At the same timeNRC in-turn swiftly continues to proceed with claims of fair ‘opportunity’ for those left out. And, that bonafide citizens concerns would be fairly processed and that final draft could possibly include many more lakhs of people.

It is interesting to note that a historical sense of injustice and claims of contestations for ‘indigeneity’ is being juxtaposed against marked and unmarked immigrants/migrants to redress the problems of unemployment, resource crunch and distribution governing the polemics of the state politics. A form of ‘Malthusian’ reasoning of disproportionate growth of population overtime against limited resources and also an imagined possible takeover (in popular consciousness Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, although local dynamics could include migrants from other parts of India as well) has governed the debate and popular psyche in Assam. The concern lies in the fact that the popular reasoning fails to dispel the fear governing the process in itself where mass of people, and the most vulnerable of all ‘illiterate’ laboring population in the margins would be left without the necessary capacity to go for certification. There is a possibility many of them may not have applied (even here data needs to be generated). Also, the everyday fear, uncertainty and ridicule in the everyday affairs of social lives in the process takes over dignified possibility of lives and livelihood in a constrained and polarized atmosphere. The popular psyche seems to move with the optimism of a ‘final solution’.

However, at this point of time the fragility of Supreme Court to look beyond the immediacy of data generation and probe into the repercussions in terms of violations of basic human right values, as well as what would be done with those unable to prove their linkage against the cut-off date could create humanitarian crisis of highest order. Hence all these concerns becomes all the more important.

The politics and rationale behind NRC at a face value is utilitarian at its core ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’. The number games needs to be historicized and humanized and the challenges of producing and procuring certificates must be reflexive to variety of contexts in which people in the margins live and navigate. The human costs cannot be unburdened through immediacy. Assam has a rich tradition of vibrant student and youth movement and a strong civil society. The task of all democratic minded sympathetic and empathetic people lies in the fact, to go beyond the utilitarian Malthusian logic and question the majoritarian process of inclusion and exclusion and create space for meaningful dialogue and trust deficits across communities and individuals. If lakhs of people on account of error and social prejudice find themselves wretched, ‘stateless’ as refugee, we all would have failed the case for human emancipation and would be equally complicit in the spectre of a humanitarian crisis awaiting us.

Ram Kumar Thakur. The Writer is a Doctoral Candidate at Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a bonafide resident of Assam.

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