October 20, 2019

NRC – A Divisive Game

DAY in and day out, Home Minister Amit Shah and other BJP leaders are declaring that a National Register of Citizens (NRC) has to be prepared for the whole country.  It is widely assumed by the public and even political parties that an NRC for the whole of India is being contemplated, when actually the NRC process has already been announced. 

It will begin with the enumeration for the National Population Register (NPR).  The notification was issued by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration in July that the central government has decided to prepare and update the National Population Register.

For this, house to house enumeration will be conducted throughout the country (except in Assam) for collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of the local registrar.  This enumeration will be undertaken between the first day of April 2020 to September 30, 2020.

The compilation of the National Population Register is a preliminary step towards preparing the NRC. On the basis of the NPR, the local register of Indian citizens will be finalised after due verification. This is the procedure set out under the “Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003”. 

So, from April 1, 2020, the NRC process will begin with the house to house enumeration for the NPR. 

It is important to note that, as per these Rules, during the verification process, particulars of such individuals, whose citizenship is doubtful, shall be entered by the local registrar with appropriate remarks in the Population Register for further enquiry and in case of doubtful citizenship, the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over. 

Another clause to the Rules, 5 (a) states that: “Every person or family specified in sub-rule (4), shall be given an opportunity of being heard by the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration, before  a final decision is taken to include or to exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens.”

The ostensible purpose of compiling an NRC is the BJP’s longstanding pledge to remove infiltrators from Bangladesh. It was during the Vajpayee government that the Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended in 2003. For the first time, the concept of a National Register of Citizens was introduced and making it compulsory to register every citizen of India and to issue a national identity card. Based on this, the rules for registration of citizenship were issued subsequently, which provides for a population register. 

In 2003 itself, a pilot project was initiated for the population register in various sub-districts of 13 states. But the BJP could not pursue the matter since it lost the election in 2004. Under the UPA government, the work of registering persons under the NPR and issuance of identity cards continued. But subsequently, with the Aadhaar scheme under the Unique Identification Authority of India coming into being, the NPR was shelved and the Aadhaar identification process rolled out. 

Now the Modi government has once again revived the enumeration for the NPR which will be the basis for the National Register of Citizens.  With Amit Shah whipping up talk about getting rid of all “infiltrators” from Bangladesh, it is evident that the NRC process will be targeting the minority community in general and it is going to be used as an instrument to further discriminate and exclude them as far as possible. 

Before the NPR process begins in April next year, the Modi government will bring in the amendment to the Citizenship Act, whereby religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan such as Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs who have come into the country illegally will become eligible for citizenship within a specified period of time.  The amendment specifically excludes Muslims from this category.

The gameplan of the BJP to create a communal division in states like West Bengal is clear.  On the one hand, it claims the NRC process will eliminate all those who are “Muslim infiltrators” from Bangladesh.  On the other hand, an assurance is held out that by amending the Citizenship Act, Hindu migrants and refugees who have come from across the border over the decades will be given citizenship.

The NRC process in Assam was an outcome of the specific historical and political situation in the state. The Assam Accord had decided to recognise all those who came into the state before March 24, 1971 as citizens. Assam was the only state in the country to have an NRC which was based on the census enumeration of 1951.  The NRC process was, thus, an updating of this register.  The final list of the NRC has excluded 1.9 million of those who applied for citizenship. This flawed list shows the dangers and problems inherent in a State-bureaucratic drive to register citizenship.

The NRC process is being undertaken at a time when already the Aadhaar identity card has covered most of the population.  There is also the Electors Photo Identity Card which has been issued by the Election Commission of India.  The necessity for another citizenship register and identity card is superfluous.  Further it will entail a huge amount of expenditure.  The NRC process is weighted against the poorest sections of the population - migrant labour, adivasis living in remote areas and other marginalised communities. 

The BJP and the Modi government are raising one divisive issue after another under the cloak of national security and raising the bogey of “foreigners”. This serves a dual purpose – it helps to create an atmosphere of insecurity and fear in the country from manufactured threats and secondly, it is useful to divert the people’s attention from the steadily deteriorating economic conditions and the problems that they face due to it.

At a time when the economy is plunging into a recession with growing loss of jobs, lack of purchasing power among the people and mass deprivation, the Hindutva rulers need to find enemies within and without the country continuously. 

(October 16, 2019)