The three-step communal game plan

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are interconnected and twin measures. The Home Minister, Amit Shah, had repeatedly made this clear both in Parliament and outside. First, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would be adopted by Parliament following which the NRC would be taken up.

In the wake of widespread protests against the CAA, the Central Government is trying to obfuscate the issue of implementing the NRC. It is taking advantage of the lack of clarity and the inadequate information available on how the NRC is going to be implemented in the whole country. The Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy, has said: “A countrywide NRC had not been notified so far and no one should fear.” The Government has put out advertisements in Hindi and Urdu newspapers stating that “The NRC has not been announced yet and if it is done so in future, then rules and regulations should be such that no Indian citizen is troubled.”

The NRC-NPR link

These and other such pronouncements are an exercise in disinformation. A crucial fact is that the NRC process begins with the compilation of the National Population Register (NPR). This is the first stage of the NRC. The notification for preparing and updating the NPR was issued by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration, on July 31, 2019. 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 and September 30, 2020.

The compilation of the NPR 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 onwards, the National Register of Citizens process will begin with house to house enumeration for the National Population Register.

It is important to note that, as per these Rules, during the verification process, particulars of such individuals whose citizenship is deemed to be “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 of these Rules, 4(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” [emphasis added].

Use of biometric data

Fifteen questions will be asked in the survey, including questions on the place of birth, the date of birth, and the name of the father and mother. The new addition will be eliciting the details of Aadhaar, which will then be crosschecked with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for verification of biometrics of the individual. So, the NPR compilation will also have the biometric data of those listed, which raises troubling questions.

It is at the verification stage that communal profiling will take place in line with what the Home Minister had declared — the purpose of the NRC is to eliminate “infiltrators” as against the Hindu refugees who will become eligible for citizenship under the CAA. Those summoned as “doubtful citizens” will have to go through the tortuous process of submitting proof of their citizenship.

The NRC does not require any new law or amendment. It is already part of the Citizenship Act of 1955 through an amendment made during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003. For the first time, the concept of a National Register of Citizens was introduced by making it compulsory to register every citizen of India and to issue a national identity card. Based on this, the rules for registration for citizenship were issued subsequently in which provision was made for a National Population Register.

Further, there is confusion created by the fact that the updation of the NPR is being done along with the Census enumeration for 2021. It is the Census authorities who undertake both these processes, but they are two separate things. The NPR is directly linked to the NRC.

That the game plan of the BJP is to create a communal division in States such as West Bengal is absolutely clear. On the one hand, it claims that the NRC process will eliminate all those who are “Muslim infiltrators” from Bangladesh. On the other hand, by amending the Citizenship Act, Hindu migrants who have come from across the border over the decades will be given citizenship.

Superfluous and expensive

The NRC process is being undertaken at a time when the Aadhaar identity card has already covered most of the population. There is also the Electors Photo Identity Card issued by the Election Commission of India. The necessity for another citizenship register and identity card is superfluous. Moreover, 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 movement against the CAA has correctly linked it to the NRC. The CAA and the NRC must be seen in tandem. While the former would legitimise non-Muslim migrants as citizens, the NRC would target the so-called “Muslim infiltrators”. What the Narendra Modi government is aiming to do is to create a category of second-class citizens whose rights would be severely circumscribed.

Prerogative of States

It is imperative that the communal agenda of the BJP and the Central Government is foiled. This requires stoppage of the NRC. An important step in this direction will be to halt the NPR process in the States. Several Chief Ministers have gone on record that they are opposed to the NRC. Even Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, and Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha, whose parties supported the CAA in Parliament, have said that they do not want the NRC.

Already Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, and Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, have announced that they are suspending the NPR process in their States. The work in the NPR gets halted since it is the State government which provides personnel for the enumeration and verification process. Other State Governments should also do so. If the Central Government stands by the announcement that the NRC process has not begun, then it should withdraw the July 31, 2019 notification for the updation of the NPR.

Prakash Karat is a Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 9:26:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-three-step-communal-game-plan/article30374423.ece

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