New Delhi: The Central government’s exercise to update the National Population Register – which has become controversial because of its links to a nationwide National Register of Citizens – officially begins on April 1. The New Delhi Municipal Corporation area will be the first to conduct the update, and the first person to be registered will be President Ram Nath Kovind.
According to the Times of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu are also likely to be added to the list on the same day. The office of the Registrar General of India has reportedly written to all three leaders, asking for a convenient time to visit for the NPR update.
According to the newspaper, officials want to make a public show of adding the senior leaders to the NPR to send out a “positive and reassuring message”. Several states have said questioned the NPR as they believe it is linked to the Narendra Modi government’s more insidious plan to conduct a nationwide NRC, which combined with the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, can be used to strip Muslims of citizenship.
While Kerala has said it will not conduct the update, West Bengal has put the process on hold. Several Congress-ruled states have asked why the Centre has added certain new fields – including date and place of parents’ birth – to the questionnaire.
While the Modi government claims that there is no link between the NPR and NRC whatsoever, past public documents released by the Ministry of Home Affairs suggest otherwise. As The Wire has reported, 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)
Although technically the NPR is a catalogue of ‘usual residents’ based on their place of residence while the NRC is a process to register Indian citizens with the objective of identifying “infiltrators,” opposition parties and human rights activists believe the NPR at this stage can easily become a prelude to the divisive NRC to be carried out nationally. This is because the 2003 Citizenship Act rules specifically envisage the creation of an NRC from the NPR master list.