Speaking in the Upper House of India’s Parliament on Thursday on the recent communal violence in Delhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah segued briefly into a topic that has gripped the country over the past year: Indian citizenship.
Measures such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens have pushed the concept of Indian citizenship and the role of religion in it to the centre of Indian politics.
In his speech in Rajya Sabha, Shah seemed to suggest that the Modi government has ruled out plans of using the upcoming National Population Register exercise to prepare a nationwide NRC.
However, his statement was a half-truth. In reality, once NPR data is collected, the Union government can, as per existing Indian law, commence with an NRC any time it wants.
Shah first claimed that the CAA was harmless. “People are scaring Muslims: CAA will take away your citizenship,” he claimed. “Show me any clause in this law that takes away citizenship. There is nothing like that.”
Shah continued: “I want to tell Muslims: these are rumors are incorrect. CAA is not to take way citizenship but to give citizenship.”
Fact check: This contradicts Shah himself. As Scroll.in had first reported, Shah had repeatedly linked the NRC and the CAA in West Bengal as a way to reassure Hindu Bengalis that they would not be targeted by an all-India NRC the way the Assam NRC had purportedly victimised the community. In several public meetings, he said Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Parsis need not worry about the NRC since it would be prepared only after the CAA is passed in Parliament – implying that those among these communities who fail to find a place in the citizens register would be considered refugees under the new citizenship law and get to stay in India. Shah pointedly excluded Muslims, thereby suggesting only Muslims would be targeted by an NRC.
Thus, in Shah’s own scheme of things, the CAA is a tool that, when used in conjunction with the NRC, will target Muslim citizenship.
Even more controversially, however, Shah made a statement that seemed to suggest that an NRC had been ruled out by the Modi government. “No documents will be asked as part of the NPR,” Shah said. “Secondly, if there is no information [on any particular NPR field], you can give as much information as you want. Thirdly, no one will be marked D [doubtful citizens]. No one has to be scared of the NPR process.”
The NPR is a door-to-door survey of Indian residents which collects a range of personal data. As per Indian law, the NPR is the first step on the road to an NRC.
Shah’s statement was intended to calm widespread fears of statelessness as a result of NRC amongst large sections of India’s population.
Classic half truth
Yet, in actuality, Shah had said nothing new. And he had certainly had not ruled out an NRC or Indians being tagged as so-called “illegal citizens”.
What Shah had delivered in the Rajya Sabha was a classic half-truth. A partially correct statement that, in sum, ended up misleading the listener.
Let’s parse what Shah effectively said: he claimed there will be no one marked “doubtful” in the NPR.
To understand why this is half-truth, here’s a quick recap of the NPR-NRC process as laid out in the Union government’s 2003 Citizenship Rules.
The NPR is a list of residents of India. Once that data is collected by means a door-to-door survey, a verification process will be carried out which will identify people whose citizenship is “doubtful”. These “doubtful” citizens will then have to prove they are not illegal migrants. Anyone who is unable to, will be legally marked an “illegal migrant” and prosecuted under Indian law. Everyone else’s name will be moved from the NPR onto the NRC and they will have the right to claim Indian citizenship.
So, in a very narrow, technical sense, Shah is right. There is no process of marking citizens “doubtful” during the NPR. Which is obvious: the NPR is a door-to-door survey to collect personal data on residents.
It is once the NPR is collated that people are marked “doubtful” as part of a verification process.
Thus, residents will be not marked “doubtful” during the NPR but after it. Moreover, the process of marking Indians “doubtful” can only be done if the NPR is conducted. Without NPR data, the next stage – the verification process – cannot be carried out.
Shah’s statement was therefore a partial statement of facts that intended to conceal the overall truth.
NRC is law
Shah’s statement makes no difference to the creation of an NRC. If an NPR is created, as per the 2003 Citizenship Rules, the data collected can be used to generate an NRC and identify so-called illegal migrants.
Not only does an NRC exist in law, the BJP has at multiple times claimed it would carry one out. The party even included the NRC as part of its 2019 Lok Sabha manifesto.
Till the 2003 Citizenship Rules remain on the books, what Shah does or does not claim is immaterial. As per Indian law, any data collected via an NPR can be used to mark citizens “doubtful” and eventually generate an NRC.