On Wednesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah stood in Parliament and promised to expand the National Register of Citizens to the rest of India. The contentious project, currently confined to Assam, attempts to make a list of all those who can prove their Indian citizenship. “We will identify all the illegal immigrants and infiltrators living on every inch of this country and deport them as per the international law,” Shah declared.
This is not the first time Shah has promised to expand the NRC. Even as Assam struggles to actually finalise its list (which you can read about in Scroll.in’s The Final Count seriesthat brings you a story a day about the NRC), Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party has repeatedly spoken about implementing the project in the rest of the country.
During the election campaign, Shah described “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” as termites and asked why they should not be thrown into the Bay of Bengal. In addition, the BJP manifesto proposed to “implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country”. This promise was also mentioned in President Ramnath Kovind’s speech at the start of the Parliamentary Session, which is written by the government.
Though for many people, the word “Bangladeshi” has actually become a stand-in for any Bengali Muslim, BJP leaders have been happy to raise the bogey of undocumented migrants and have promised to carry out an NRC process in their own states. Demands or promises of an NRC have come from other North Eastern states, from Delhi, from Karnataka and beyond.
All of this is deeply cynical and dangerous.
In Assam, preparing the NRC list has proved to be a wrenching exercise. Even though there is nothing fair about the process, the history of that state offers some legal peculiarities that provide an excuse for it to be carried out. But even if you discount questions of justice and humanity, from a practical point of view, an all-India NRC is just about impossible.
Vast sections India’s would simply not be able to produce the documents necessary to prove their ancestry. The process would inevitably lead to minorities being further targeted – which is exactly what the BJP wants. An all-India NRC would also be a costly, traumatic affair with little benefit, not unlike demonetisation.
The government has yet to clarify how it will handle the people in Assam who are declared non-citizens, a number that could count in the crores.
Despite using the immigration bogey all over the country, the BJP has yet to explain how a pan-India NRC would actually work. This is because it is pure rhetoric. As if to underscore its confusion, the government in replies to questions in Parliament earlier in the year said there was no plan to extend the NRC to other states.
This is one of those classic dangerous BJP moves: to use rabble-rousing rhetoric to scare Indians about undocumented migrants and promise to deal with them through a controversial process that the party has no intention of actually rolling out. The fear of course, is that the party’s constant emphasis on undocumented migrants and an NRC wilk eventually force it to do something (see also: Brexit).
By now, the bogey of illegal immigration has become too potent a rhetorical weapon for the BJP to stop using. The need of the moment is to assist Assam to conduct this traumatic exercise in the most humane manner possible, even as the process is currently being disrupted by devastating floods. The ruling party ought to be much more responsible about threatening to unleash a firestorm.