Editorial

Fuel to the fire: On Cabinet announcement on NPR

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The burden of proof must not be on the people to prove their citizenship

The Union Cabinet announcement on Tuesday that the National Population Register (NPR) would be updated across the country, barring Assam, at an expense of over ₹3,941.35 crore, would have been considered a routine administrative measure but for the myriad concerns among the public about the government’s intentions. The announcement on the NPR came amid continuing protests against the recent Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, in many parts of the country and lingering uncertainty regarding the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), on which senior government functionaries have given conflicting statements. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that the NRIC had not been discussed in the government, but that did not mean that it would not be taken up. His assurance that no Indian of any religion will be adversely affected by the controversial CAA rings hollow, when the government has not cleared the air in unambiguous terms that it has no plans for an elaborate plan to tabulate citizens. The NRC, as it was rolled out in Assam, puts the burden of proof on citizens to establish that they are indeed citizens. The undocumented and the poor will bear the brunt of this approach. The proposed format for enumerating the NPR only exacerbates this concern and adds a third axis to the ongoing confusion and turmoil. It is correct that the NPR is not about citizenship but only about residency. However, when additional questions such as “place of birth of father and mother”, etc are being proposed for the forthcoming exercise, the concern that this may be a prelude to the NRIC is logical.

Instead of coming clean and reassuring the public on its plans, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to muddle the debate further by pointing out that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had prepared the NPR in 2010. It is nobody’s argument that the state should not enumerate the population or collect data on the people — which are all essential for providing good governance. Never in the past, including when a part of India broke away as Pakistan on the basis of religion, did the prospects of a religious test for citizenship appear even remotely in this country. In 2014, the BJP election manifesto explicitly stated that India was a natural homeland for “persecuted Hindus”, and Mr. Modi made the now-familiar, and extremely problematic, distinction between “infiltrators” and “refugees”. With the passage of the CAA, and the announcement of the NRIC, there is enough factual basis for doubting the government’s claim that the NPR has nothing to do with the NRIC. In the current climate of panic among a significant section of the country’s poor and the Muslim minorities, the government, at the highest levels must speak up to bolster their confidence in India’s constitutional democracy. Equivocation, and polarising grandstanding on the CAA, the NRIC, and now the NPR, may yield political dividends for the government but at a very high cost to the nation. This is the time to douse the fire, not add fuel to it.

 

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 7:18:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/fuel-to-the-fire-on-cabinet-announcement-on-npr/article30415099.ece

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