If MHA Now Says 'No Plan for All-India NRC', Did Amit Shah Mislead Parliament Earlier?

Is the home ministry saying one thing and doing another?

New Delhi: “Till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian Citizens at the national level,” minister of state for home Nityanand Rai said in a written reply.

Compare that to what Union home minister Amit Shah told the Rajya Sabha less than three months ago, in November 2019: “The Assam exercise was carried out under a Supreme Court order. NRC will be carried out across the country, will be done in Assam again at the time, no one from any religion should be worried.”

Has the Ministry of Home Affairs really changed its mind, or is it just backtracking because of the large-scale protests against the NRC and Citizenship (Amendment) Act? Or, as critics believe may be the case, is it saying one thing and doing another?

In December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already tried to sell the line that his government had no interest whatsoever in a nationwide NRC. What made his remarks hard to believe, though, was that home minister Amit Shah has repeatedly said the exact opposite. The BJP’s 2019 election manifesto also promised an NRC in “other parts of the country in a phased manner”.

It has also been argued that the Centre is trying to push through the nationwide NRC using the exercise to update the National Population Register. As The Wire has reported, The NPR is a process, first mooted by the first National Democratic Alliance government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to collect basic demographic and biometric details for the creation of an identity database of every resident of the country. It will be conducted along with the house-listing exercise for Census 2021, for which the government allocated a separate amount of Rs 8,754 crore.

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The Ministry of Homa Affairs has in the past repeatedly stressed that the NPR and NRC are linked. Now, though, with the controversy raging, it has said that the NRC has nothing to do with the NPR.

As the then minister of state for home affairs told the Rajya Sabha on November 26, 2014, “The National Population Register (NPR) is a register of all the usual residents which include citizens and non-citizens as well. The NPR is the first step towards creation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying the citizenship status of every usual resident.” (emphasis added)

The NRC has become contentious as it may require Indian citizens to prove their citizenship through multiple documents, which the poor will struggle to produce. Following the CAA, which treats all non-Muslim undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan as refugees and expedites the grant of Indian citizenship to them, the NRC is also now being seen as an exclusionary exercise that may empower the government to declare marginalised people, and especially Muslims, as “doubtful citizens” and then eventually as “infiltrators”.