PM dials down the NRC, but keeps options open PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 December 2019 00:00
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PM tries to reassure people after nationwide protests; must have a full consultation the next time around


There can be little doubt that prime minister Narendra Modi glossed over vital facts in his Ramlila Maidan speech on Sunday. Apart from his statement on there being no detention centres (for the National Register of Citizens, NRC) in the country being clearly incorrect, he chose not to recall his home minister’s repeated statements on it when he told the crowds that he didn’t know where all the talk of an impending NRC process came from since there was no Bill nor any proposal on this that had even been cleared by the Union Cabinet. On more than one occasion, home minister Amit Shah has been seen, on video, as saying that once the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is passed and Hindus/Sikhs/Christians/Buddhists/Jain refugees are made citizens, the NRC will be used to weed out illegal immigrants; the BJP’s twitter handlers even deleted a tweet from its official handle that had the home minister talking of NRC. And, though a combative prime minister continued to blame the Congress—and ‘urban Naxals’—for spreading rumours about what an NRC would do to local Muslims, an important takeaway was that he was trying to distance his party and government from the process.

And, he didn’t repeat his statement, made during the Jharkhand campaigning, of how one could identify who was creating trouble by just looking at their clothes; on Sunday, he applauded the anti-CAA protestors who were holding the national flag. The prime minister, though, probably struck a chord when he sought to convert the issue from a Hindu-Muslim one into one of the poor vs the non-poor; did we ask you what your religion was, he thundered, when we built 1.5 crore houses for the poor, or when 5 crore poor were covered under Ayushman Bharat and 70 lakh were given free treatment … And why, he asked, would I regularise the homes of 40 lakh homeless Delhiites if I had to, at the same time, take away your rights?

If the government has, in the face of widespread protests by students across the country, decided to go slow on the NRC, that is indeed good news since, more than the CAA, it was the NRC that was worrying; as a result of the countrywide protests, even chief ministers of parties that supported the CAA in parliament, said they wouldn’t allow NRC in their states. It is, of course, unfortunate that India is choosing to define its citizenship on religious grounds; and while it is true that citizenship rights of Indian Muslims are not being taken away by CAA, if only non-Muslim immigrants are to be granted fast-track citizenship if they are being persecuted in Pakistan/Afghanistan/Bangladesh, this sends an unequivocal message to the Muslims in the country. Few would argue that illegal immigrants don’t need to be dealt with firmly, but if the process also involves the possibility of millions of poor citizens becoming non-citizens as they don’t have the requisite documents, the picture is quite different.

Indeed, the government itself has been issuing contradictory statements on this. In a bid to dampen sentiments against NRC, government ‘sources’ first gave the media FAQs that even suggested Aadhaar cards could be accepted as valid citizenship documents—a day later, this was even issued by the Press Information Bureau; this was odd since, with most Indians issued Aadhaar numbers, how would this weed out illegal immigrants? Indeed, the home minister had earlier said, in a TV interview, that Aadhaar is not proof of citizenship; what are citizens to believe?

It is, of course, always possible that the government could try and introduce the NRC after the anger over CAA dissipates. But, should that happen, it is to be hoped this is after a detailed consultative process, and not by stealth. Merely stating that an NRC was always part of the BJP’s agenda since it was on the party’s manifesto—and people voted for the BJP in 2014 and 2019—is neither here nor there; even provision of more jobs and higher economic prosperity are part of the manifesto, but neither seems like they are being fulfilled right now.


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