On Wednesday, Home Minister Amit Shah repeated in Parliament a promise first made during the 2019 election: that a citizenship test would be carried out across the country.
He also emphasised that the National Register of Citizens would be preceded by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. This Bill ensures that Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis –which is to say, everyone except for Muslims – cannot be charged with being illegal migrants even if they entered India without papers. This is a narrative that Shah has stressed since the 2019 elections, making sure to communicate that since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would precede the NRC, in effect the NRC would only apply to Muslims.
India’s Muslims population is more than 170 million – a number that by itself would be the world’s seventh most-populous country. A process to check the citizenship of such a large body of people is unprecedented anywhere in the world. The nation-wide NRC would not only bury the idea of a secular India, it would grievously threaten the country’s stability.
From fear to boycott
Confronted with this threat, many Muslims have reacted with panic and fear. Across the country, Muslims are gathering documents that will prove their citizenship. West Bengal has seen suicides that have been linked to fear of an NRC. Given the dislocation that the NRC caused in Assam, a nation-wide NRC would be a disaster.
However, an idea has also been floated in Muslim circles of mounting a Gandhian civil disobedience against the NRC. Given the scale of the NRC, and its targeting of nearly 200 million of India’s Muslims, it has been argued that a boycott of the NRC would effectively make the exercise a lame duck.
A communal tool
Given the NRC will follow the communally-filtered Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, many argued that it not good-faith citizenship check but simply a way to victimise Muslims.
A class argument was made. For many poor Muslims, who do not even have enough to eat, how can they ensure documents, asks Hasnat in Hindi.
Former IAS officer Kannan Gopinath made the point that rather that go into panic looking for documents, India’s citizens should hit the streets and make sure the NRC plan is rolled back.
Hit the streets
Aman Wadud, a Guwahati-based lawyer closely involved with the legal cases arising from the Assam NRC, also seconded Gopinath’s point, urging Muslims to protest on the ground.
Calls also came in for Hindus to join in the boycott.
The issue has also given rise to a “No NRC Movement” Facebook page with more than one lakh members.
And while most of this narrative has circulated on Twitter and Facebook, some has also found its way to WhatsApp.
However, there were also some dissenting voices. Delhi-based lawyer Anas Tanwir argued on Twitter that “civil disobedience has no place in democracy” and Muslims should prepare their documents instead.