Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced the government's decision to prepare a National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country. The indication is that the exercise will be undertaken through the Census procedure of 2021, for which the provision of a population register has already been made in the Census Rules. The purpose of a citizen's register should be to ensure that foreigners entering the country legally or illegally, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, can be identified and deprived of the rights of citizens, except by naturalisation or registration. But the BJP plans to welcome Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees, Buddhists and Jains of three neighbouring countries to become citizens of India if they are 'persecuted' in those countries. Persecution seems to be a fig leaf, as illegal Hindu migrants, who are the largest number, are presumed to be persecuted without bothering for proof thereof.
A Citizenship Amendment Bill was introduced in the last session of the Parliament to facilitate easy registration of Hindu illegal migrants but the BJP's numerical inferiority in Rajya Sabha was a stumbling block. The BJP government this time expects to get the bill passed during the current session as they have gained numerical superiority in both the houses. The home minister says that preparation of the NRC and passing of the CAB are mutually exclusive exercises but they are not. It is very obvious that with the passage of CAB into an Act, its provisions will be used to grant citizenship to mostly the Hindu immigrants illegally entering into India and the National Register of the Citizens prepared for the country will be the record used for the purpose of identifying immigrants. I do not feel that there will be a cut-off date for this exercise done through the Census. In this exercise, Muslims will only be the target. This Hindu appeasement is understandably aimed at consolidating Hindu votes in favour of the BJP and thus by this majoritarian ploy the party is trying to be invincible.
Disturbing game plan
It has also been announced simultaneously that this countrywide NRC exercise through the Census route will cover Assam too. According to media reports, the home minister told the Rajya Sabha: “When the NRC is carried out nationwide, there will be another NRC round in Assam' (
The Telegraph, November 21, 2019.) The BJP was enthusiastic when the NRC was being updated in Assam in 2016 and had expectations that this exercise undertaken under the supervision of the Supreme Court would identify both Hindu and Muslim illegal migrants from Bangladesh and perhaps calculated that most of them would be Muslims. They did not worry about identification of Hindu illegal migrants, since the strategy was to grant them citizenship anyhow.
Due to strict supervision by the Supreme Court, the party had no opportunity to intervene in the process and when the final list appeared (19 lakh), it was found that Muslims were in lesser number among those whose applications for citizenship were rejected. The party followers raised complaints that a large number of Muslim illegal migrants found place in NRC through manipulation. So, the state BJP, as publicly stated by Himanta Biswa Sharma, a powerful state minister, demanded rejection of the Assam NRC. The present announcement is perhaps the outcome of such a demand.
This game plan is disturbing. The Assam NRC was prepared under the supervision of the Supreme Court. This is a detailed database of 3 crore people who have proved their citizenship before the government authority, despite some quarters raising questions. Doubts arising from such questions can be cleared following due procedure. But jettisoning the whole exercise in a huff smacks of ulterior motive. As many as 200 Tribunals have been established to hear complaints. But without exhausting the process, the government announces a fresh NRC for Assam and that also bypassing the Supreme Court, which has the final authority on this database. This disregard of the Supreme Court by the government will be a dangerous precedent in a constitutional democracy. The government is also playing with the people who undertook great trouble in appearing in a number of rounds of hearing to prove their citizenship through approved documents.
Scope for manipulation
Moreover, the citizenship document through census route will have scope for manipulation as under section 15 of the Census Act, the data collected are not for public view and will escape RTI if any manipulation is done by enumerators/others in the particulars of data furnished by the 'residents' enumerated.
I have no doubt in mind that the CAB is intended to be linked to the NRC and in Assam it will nullify the clause 5 of the Assam Accord. The term 'illegal migrant' was taken from the Assam Accord to the Citizenship Act. The term is being retained to identify Muslim illegal migrants only, which makes the Assam Accord redundant. Assam Accord did not communally distinguish the illegal migrants and clearly mentioned that all illegal migrants entering Assam after the midnight of March 24, 1971 would be detected and deported.
Harekrishna Deka is former DGP of Assam. The views are personal.