On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a rally in Delhi that the National Register of Citizens hasn’t even been brought up once since he came to power, which was as an outright lie, considering how often Home Minister Amit Shah has promised one. On Tuesday, the Union Cabinet approved Rs 3,900 crore for the updating of the National Population Register – which the Census of India website describes as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar announced the step in a press briefing after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Javadekar insisted that the National Population Register was an initiative of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, and claimed that the government has no plans at the moment to carry out the NRC.
“NPR was started under the UPA in 2010, in 2015 it was updated,” he said. “In 2020 it will be done again. No proof or document is required, only information is needed. We trust the public.” Javadekar also claimed that no list of doubtful citizens would be created under the NPR and lumped the process in along with the Census, which is carried out every decade.
Yet Javadekar’s comments are unlikely to reassure anyone worried by the Citizenship Act-NRC-NPR combination that has sparked protests around the country over the last two weeks, in the belief that they will be used to harass Indian Muslims. There is no sign of the demonstrations slowing down.
There are two reasons for this:
The government and BJP have constantly resorted to muddled messaging and misiniformation on the matter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has contradicted Home Minister Amit Shah. The BJP has differed with both of them. Official government releases seem to have no actual value.
There is a general belief that these mixed messages are deliberate, in the hopes of blunting the protests that have gone nationwide. Yet this also means that no single statement of the government can be trusted, when the laws on paper allow for something else completely.
NPR is NRC
As Shoaib Daniyal explained in this investigation by Scroll.in, the National Population Register is the first step for the National Register of Citizens. The entire aim of the population register is to create a list of Indian residents, and then use that to create a list of Indian citizens as well as a separate of those considered “doubtful”. It is not the same as the Census, even though the government has repeatedly tried to tie the two together.
This isn’t just Scroll.in saying so either. Here’s a screenshot from the Census website, quoted above:
Here is a response to a Parliamentary question by Minister of State for Home Affairs Shri Kiren Rijijuon 26 November 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 residents.
It is because of this clearly stated connection between the two that West Bengal, Kerala and Rajasthan have decided to halt work on the National Population Register, under fears that it would be used to create an NRC and exclude millions of Indian citizens who lack documents.
Javadekar’s claims on Tuesday that NPR is different to NRC will hardly be enough to assuage these fears. Indeed, the Cabinet’s decision to allocate money right now threatens to add to the sense that the government – despite all its misinformation – has no intention of backing down on carrying out a pan-India NRC.