Mixed signals on NRC

PM Modi’s remarks on the National Register of Citizens contradict the Home Minister’s claims

December 23, 2019 12:15 am | Updated 01:20 pm IST

PM Narendra Modi addressing at a public meeting during a rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on December 22, 2019

PM Narendra Modi addressing at a public meeting during a rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on December 22, 2019

Addressing a rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that there have been no discussions on an all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) since the BJP-led government assumed power in 2014. He said that the NRC was implemented in Assam alone following the Supreme Court’s orders. Is this statement accurate?

Claims and counterclaims

On November 20, 2019, in a reply to a question by Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta, Home Minister Amit Shah said that the NRC exercise would be carried out across India. He said that the gazette notification of September 7, 2015, which was made in the case of Assam, would be applicable to the rest of India as well. The Prime Minister’s remarks on the “nationwide NRC” therefore contradict what the Home Minister has been saying on the issue.

“Nationwide NRC” also finds a mention in the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto. Under the section ‘Combating Infiltration’, the manifesto clearly mentions that NRC will be implemented across the country. The manifesto says, “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country”.

The Prime Minister also denied the existence of detention centres in India. In response to a question by Md. Nadimul Haque in the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2019, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, said that the Central government had circulated a document titled Model Detention/Holding Centre Manual to all State and Union Territories on January 9, 2019. He also revealed in another answer in the House that, as on November 22, 2019, Assam already had six functioning detention centres with 988 foreigners lodged in them.

In response to Mr. Haque, Mr. Rai also said that “detention centres are set up by State Governments/ Union Territory Administration (UTs) as per requirement to detain illegal migrants or convicted foreigners pending deportation to their native country. Instructions have been issued to all State Governments/UTs from time to time for setting up the detention centres... and [States/UTs] will not require any specific approval from the [MHA] for setting up of such detention centres”. He also said that the government has approved a detention centre at Goalpara in Assam at a budget of ₹46.5 crore.

While referring to opposition among a section of the political class to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, Mr. Modi said, “The very people opposing citizenship rights to refugees had supported in 2004 a move to deprive Jammu and Kashmir’s women of rights if they married someone outside the State.” His reference was perhaps to the Jammu and Kashmir Permanent Residents (Disqualification) Bill, 2004. This contentious issue was adjudicated upon by the J&K High Court in 2002 in State and others v. Dr Susheela Sawhney. In that judgment the court said that “a daughter of a permanent resident marrying a non permanent resident will not lose the status of permanent resident of the state of Jammu and Kashmir”.

The Peoples Democratic Party, which was in a coalition government with the Congress in 2004, brought the said Bill to overturn the decision. The Bill passed 47-34 in the Lower House in the then State of J&K. However, partly due to opposition by the Congress, it lapsed in the Upper House. Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed, the Congress chief for J&K, was reported to have said: “There are thousands of students studying in various States and some have married there. If we enact this law it would create problems for them. Legally and morally, the Congress will not be part of any Bill which is anti-women”.

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