The remarks of Union home minister Amit Shah on the subject of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) made in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, which seemed to flow directly from the demand made by Assam minister and prominent state leader Himanta Biswa Sarma just before the home minister’s statement, betray a lack of foresight at the top levels of the government and the BJP leadership on the extremely sensitive issue of the meaning of Indian citizenship.
The issues involved in the discussion so far also throw up conceptual wrongheadedness about mixing up citizenship with religion. The clearly visible communal slant in the approach of the powers-that-be can be seen from the fact that Mr Sarma, who is the coordinator for the BJP for all of the northeast, has rejected the draft NRC for Assam got ready by August 31 at the behest of the Supreme Court. The draft document identifies 19 lakh people in Assam as foreigners.
The Assam BJP leader’s rejection of the NRC draft is on account of the fact that the document questions the citizenship status of a large number of Hindus too, and not just Muslims of Bangladesh background, who were the BJP’s intended target. Evidently, putting the citizenship status of the majority Hindu community under the scanner can place the BJP’s plan to entrench itself in the important border state of Assam and the Northeast at grave risk.
Mr Sarma announced his rejection at a press conference on Wednesday where he also called for compiling an NRC for the whole country, and doing the Assam NRC all over again alongside that for rest of India, without regard for the fact that the present NRC draft was got ready under a Supreme Court deadline at the cost of great human suffering.
Shortly after Mr Sarma’s news conference, the Union home minister echoed the Assam leader’s thoughts during Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha, making it amply clear that Assam is leading the Centre by the nose on this critical matter which can have the effect of creating a social upheaval in the country.
While Mr Shah, as the home minister, has now formally announced a NRC for the whole country on the floor of Parliament — after indicating this for the past couple of months at election rallies and from other public forums — it is curious that in the Lok Sabha in December last year, in reply to a question, the Union home ministry had categorically stated, “The exercise to update NRC 1951 is being conducted under the special provisions in respect of State of Assam under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules, 2003. At present there is no proposal to extend the National Register of Citizens to states other than Assam.”
The sea change in the government’s thinking since December 2018 on the subject of NRC is glaring. It bears a close resemblance to the decision of the Delhi Sultanate ruler Muhammand bin Tughlaq’s decision to move his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in the Deccan and then back to Delhi right after the massive move had been accomplished. After the BJP’s return to power in 2019 with an improved mandate, this is ideology at work....