Aakar Patel

After CAA, can we expect an NPR and an NRC? That would depend on who in the government one believes. Let’s have a look at the real chronology.

After the Shaheen Bagh protests began, the Prime Minister at a rally in Delhi on 22 December 2019 said: “I want to tell the 130 crore people of India that ever since my government came to power in 2014… from then until now… there has been no discussion on NRC anywhere… we only had to implement it in Assam to follow Supreme Court directives.”

His claim went against the public statements made by the Home Minister only days earlier. On 10 December, Amit Shah said in Parliament that “Is desh mein NRC hokar rahega”—there will definitely be an NRC in this nation — and “maan ke chaliye NRC aane wala hai” (you must assume that NRC is to come). At an election rally in Jharkhand on 3 December, he had even set a deadline for NRC’s completion — 2024, saying “each and every infiltrator will be identified and expelled before the next election.”

Modi had himself promised to bring the NRC in his 2019 manifesto, which read: “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 the future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.”

India has no extradition treaty with Bangladesh or Pakistan. Assuming the National Population Register and NRC would locate undocumented migrants the government had no means of sending them anywhere except to detention as it was already doing in Assam.

Two days after that Modi speech, the Union government took the first step towards the NRC. The Cabinet met to approve Rs 8,754 crore for the census to be conducted in 2021 and another Rs 3,941 crore for “updation of the National Population Register.”

At a press conference, the government underplayed the NPR move. It said that “anyone,” including non-citizens, would be counted in the NPR for which “no proof, no document, no biometric” was required because, according to the government, “we trust the public.”

The NPR exercise would begin in April 2020 and would conclude in September (COVID halted that). The NPR, the government claimed, would not be used for the NRC. Indeed, Shah specifically stated that the NPR had no relation at all to the NRC: “Iska dur dur tak NRC se kuchh bhi sambandh nahin hai” (It isn’t even remotely connected to the NRC). Shah said: “NPR is the database on which policy is made. NRC is a process in which people are asked to prove their citizenship. There is no connection between the two processes, nor can they be used in each other’s survey. NPR data can never be used for NRC. Even the laws are different … I assure all the people, specially from the minorities, that NPR is not going to be used for NRC. It’s a rumour.”

It was not a rumour and the facts came out quite quickly. Twenty-two points of data would be collected in the NPR. The Modi government had added eight new ones. Details would be collected of an individual’s Aadhaar, passport, driving licence, mobile number, voter identity card, mother tongue, and the date and birthplace of their parents.

These eight were not in the 2003 Citizenship Rules, which is the legal framework for the NPR, and had been specifically added by the Modi government to some end. What was that end? When reporters pointed this out to then Union minister Prakash Javadekar, he said he had “not seen the form finalised by experts.”

Research into the laws and bylaws has showed that the NPR was not only linked to the NRC, it was its very foundation. The NPR list would be scanned by local officials going through it to mark, at their discretion, “doubtful citizens.” These individuals would then have to line up and prove their citizenship. Once the list was drawn up and put on display, anyone could complain or name an individual or a family as being “doubtful,” even anonymously.

On 24 December 2019, it was reported that NPR was indeed the basis for NRC. Section 14A of the Citizenship Act empowered the government to compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue an identity card and to maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens. The citizenship register would be generated out of this NPR database.

Then someone dug up the 2018–19 annual report of Shah’s Home Ministry, in which it had itself said that “the National Population Register is the first step towards the creation of the National Register of Indian Citizens.”

On 8 July 2014, then Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said: “It has been decided that NPR should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion, which is creation of a National Register of Indian Citizens by verification of citizenship status of every usual resident in the NPR.”

On 26 November 2014, Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha: “The NPR is the first step towards creation of National Register of Indian Citizens by verifying the citizenship status of every usual resident.” He made similar statements linking the NPR and the NRC in Parliament on 15 July, 22 July and 23 July of 2014, on 13 May 2015 and 16 November 2016.

COVID is gone. So what is the actual status of NPR and NRC after CAA has arrived? We do not know and that is concerning because it is a serious issue that has become clouded in doublespeak.

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