Citizens’ Dialogue: The Idea of Democratic Citizenry

The Centre for Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) organised the first Citizen’s Dialogue on “The Idea of Democratic Citizenry” by Hon’ble Member of Parliament Abdul Khaleque, from Barpeta, Assam. The session was moderated by Dr Irfanullah Farooqui, Asst. Professor, South Asian University who iterated that when it comes to Democracy and Citizenship, some questions need to be addressed in the current times. The key participants in the dialogue were Dr Omair Anas, Director, CSPS, Dr Krishnaswamy Dara, Asst. Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Mr Syed Saud Akhtar, Registrar, Jamia Hamdard. The session commenced with an introductory remark by Dr Anas who emphasised the importance of inclusiveness and dialogue in a democratic society, where multiple stakeholders need to engage to find common ground. He highlighted the significance of plurality, a core value upheld by CSPS, in promoting an open platform for discussions and debates.

Abdul Khaleque elaborated on the complexities and issues surrounding citizenship in the context of Assam. He discussed the historical politics around citizenship in the state and highlighted important legislative and legal events that have shaped the discourse on this matter. Mr Khaleque provided insight into the local perspective regarding the need and relevance of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and how various groups have reacted to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). He extensively discussed the loopholes and issues with the completed NRC process, which has failed to satisfy different demographics and political groups. Supporting his points, he presented statistics that underscored the precarious situation following the NRC’s completion.

Mr Khaleque described a unique identification in Assam known as ‘d-voter’ (doubtful voter), which marks individuals as suspected illegal foreign migrants, putting the burden of proof on the people. This has led to a strenuous and rigorous verification process, often resulting in harassment and exhaustion for those involved. Additionally, he noted that the fault lines around the concept of citizenship in Assam primarily exist along ethnic lines, particularly associating the Bengali identity with stigma and contempt. He further argued that this situation has worsened under the aggressive Hindutva politics of the BJP, which, instead of working towards reconciliation of ethnic divisions, has deepened them.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session which focused on the precarious experience of minorities in Assam and the issue of delimitation concerning the electorates of Assam. In response, he explained how ethnic intolerance against Bengalis lays the groundwork for their precarious experiences, leading to alienation and a lack of trust in the State and its apparatuses. Regarding the Delimitation Commission, he explained that this issue has been a longstanding concern for Assam, and despite multiple failed attempts, the current government is now pushing it again. He also elaborated on the kind of electoral reconfiguration that would follow the Delimitation process and the problems it might create.

The session ended with the vote of thanks by Dr Sheeba Naaz, Research Coordinator, CSPS, where she expressed her commitment to continue the tradition of ‘Citizens’ Dialogue’ to keep everyone engaged in meaningful discussions. She conveyed her gratitude on behalf of CSPS to Mr Khaleque and all participants for contributing to a successful and intellectually stimulating dialogue.


This report is prepared by Dikshant Gehlot and Pranoy Saha, research interns at CSPS