Prateek Hajela: Assam NRC’s ‘Man of the Moment’

NAVANIL BARUA

Now that the first draft roll of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has come out and also there haven’t been any major complaints so far, let us look back at the humongous effort of preparation of NRC. The person who comes to my mind when we talk of NRC is none other than bureaucrat Prateek Hajela. As the Captain and team leader of a huge team, he must have felt good at the results of his own and his team’s back breaking efforts.
 
I strive to record my personal experience with him and the whole matter. When I was in school and the issue of foreign nationals in Assam first broke out, I used to sit with my friends of AJYCP in a candle lit office in Nabagraha (the office was later broken down by SK Agnihotri, a fiery IAS officer of the eighties during the Assam agitation), I would always wonder – why can’t we have a register of all Indian citizens. However, when I realised the sheer volume of the exercise, I knew its impossible to compile. In those days, there were no computers like today, no internet.
 
Came 22nd century, information technology made a huge difference and what was impossible then became a reality of today. We all are celebrating the publishing of the first part of draft NRC on Deccember 31, 2017. Facebook is inundated with screen shots of those whose names feature and complaints from those who didn’t. There are posts congratulating Aabhijit Sarmah for filing the case, then it changed to Pradeep Bhuyan for being the actual man behind. Yet others congratulated the supreme court for its pro-active role in the affair.
 
Without an iota of doubt, all those who have been given credit, actually deserve their due . However, I feel due credit to one of  the main reasons behind a successful draft NRC is yet to be given. First and foremost, let’s talk of the team leader. I always felt that most non-Assamese IAS officers lack commitment towards their workplace, ie, Assam, and are most happy minting and enjoying life in general. I must confess, I did not feel Prateek Hajela to be any different, till I came to know him personally. One day, he came to meet for a different reason.
 
As is my habit, I started talking about NRC and its progress. I was really and very pleasantly surprised to see his reaction. His face lit up and went on to explain so many angles which was totally unknown to me. He explained how the work is going on, what is he doing to make it fool proof, what are the hurdles in cross checking legacy data and submitted documents belonging to agencies or states out of Assam, etc. I loved his sincerity in going about his work. Also realized that even if the NRC is faulty, he will neither lose his job, nor lose his salary. Accepted that he had to work under orders of SC but the diligence, missionary zeal with which he worked makes him a man who truly loves the country and understood the responsibility bestowed on him so well.
 
Yes, he had to face political ire at times, but he held on to his brief so well. Remember, most others would have managed a transfer to a more lucrative and less taxing post but he stuck on to it. After our first long meeting, we met several times and each time we discussed about progress and other issues related to NRC. He would tell me all that can be divulged without crossing the line of impropriety.
 
His dedication can be gauged by a very interesting incident. Once, there was a hearing on NRC at the Supreme Court and I had a conference at Delhi the same day. On the previous evening, we all were travelling to Delhi by the same flight. I was sitting with Samujjal Bhattacharjee and Aabhijit Sarma. Hajela knew it would be improper to discuss with me anything in their presence as they were parties in the hearing. He did the best thing possible under the circumstances. He chose not to recognize me!
 
Alongwith Hajela, I also feel indebted to those innumerable, unknown, unnamed foot soldiers, working day in day out, often spending their own money, to compile a fool proof NRC. Unless one knows, how hard they worked, how many millions of documents they analysed, how many hours of work they put in, one can never appreciate their contribution. They were having comfortable lives as teachers, inspectors, officers till they were deputed to NRC duty. Yet, they pulled it off.
 
SALUTE TO ALL THOSE ASSAM GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES – permanent or contractual alike, who worked superhumanly to present us our lifeline. I hope someone shall recognize their efforts…
 
Lastly, I congratulate those section of the population who were constantly provoked in the name of NRC. Yes, many do not find their names in the NRC, yet not a single incidence of disturbance reported from anywhere in Assam. Understandably, the state government and politicians will rush to claim credit for that. May I remind that when we, along with Dr Hiren Gohain, worked to prevent any possible untoward aftermath of publication of NRC, were criticised by the same people and questioned why should there be disturbances?
 
Now that there are none, let me congratulate people like me who went to the periphery and allayed apprehensions, stood by genuine Indians and above all ensured that the gullible do not set foot on communal traps. Good start to 2018! May the final NRC come soon.
 

NAVANIL BARUA

NAVANIL BARUA

Dr Navanil Barua is Director Neurosurgery, GNRC hospitals. He graduated from Gauhati Medical College and specialized from AIIMS, New Delhi. Son of Luit Konwar Rudra Barua and actress Arati Barua, he was born in Shillong and grew up in Guwahati. Well-travelled and acclaimed professionally at various national and international levels, he has written professional as well as general articles at various forum and publications. Basically interested in life and nature.