Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday claimed there was no link between the National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register. Earlier in the day, the Cabinet approved funds of Rs 3,900 crore to update the NPR, which the Census of India website describes as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”.
“There is no need to debate this [pan-India NRC] as there is no discussion on it right now, Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi was right, there is no discussion on it yet either in the Cabinet or Parliament,” he said in an interview with news agency ANI. The prime minister had said on Sunday that nothing had “happened with the NRC” and that lies were being spread about the exercise.
“I want to tell the 130 crore citizens of India that since my government has come to power, since 2014, there has been no discussion on NRC anywhere,” Modi had said. “Only after the Supreme Court’s order, this exercise was done for Assam.”
The home minister on Tuesday claimed that there was a difference between the two registers and that their procedures were not linked, adding that the data in the NPR cannot be used for the NRC. “NPR is the register of population on the basis of which schemes are made,” he said. “NRC asks people on what basis they are the citizens of the country.”
Shah attempted to assuage citizens, especially minority communities including Muslims, and said that there should be no fear in anyone’s minds about the NPR. The minister claimed some people were spreading misinformation on the matter and that they should refrain from doing so, adding that those opposing the NPR were doing a huge “disservice to the poor”.
But a release from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2014 had said: “The National Population Register is a register of all the usual residents which include citizens and non-citizens as well.” It had added that the NPR is “the first step towards creation of National Register of Indian Citizens by verifying the citizenship status of every usual residents”.
The home minister has in the past repeatedly spoken about the government’s plan to introduce a nationwide NRC and how it was linked to the amended citizenship law. On April 11, Shah explicitly connected the two while speaking at an election rally in Raiganj, West Bengal. “We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha [sic], Hindus and Sikhs,” Shah had said.
Shah also said on Tuesday that the NPR and the census will be carried out in 2021 and house-mapping will begin in 2020. When asked what happens when some people are left out of the NPR, Shah claimed that their citizenship “will not be revoked because this is not the process of NRC”.
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The home minister claimed that any resistance against the Citizenship Amendment Act should have come from West Bengal and the North East states, but “nothing happened comparatively”. Five people died during protests in the state while the nationwide toll is 23. Shah also supported the police action against protestors and said that personnel “fire when lives of people are in danger”.
On detention centres being set up in the country, Shah said that it was a continuous procedure, adding that they were for foreigners arrested without documents before they are deported. “Detention centres have nothing to do with NRC,” he said.
The home minister also claimed there was only one such centre in Assam, and dismissed reports of them being set up in Karnataka. He added that no such detention centre had been set up after the Modi government came to power.
But apart from the existing detention centres in Assam, and the harrowing stories that emerge from it, new facilities are being built in other parts of India on the instructions of the Centre. A barrage of past speeches, interviews, social media posts, the party’s own 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto, reveal the BJP’s year of grandstanding on the NRC.
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Shah also asked political parties not to politicise the matter and urged West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to not stop work on updating the NPR and review their decisions. Last week, both Kerala and West Bengal had issued orders to stop work on the population register.
While the Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to people from six persecuted religious communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – except Muslims – the stated objective of the National Register of Citizens is to identify undocumented migrants. The register left out around 19 lakh people in Assam.
Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens have engulfed India in the past two weeks. The protests saw peaceful marches as well as intense clashes between the police and the demonstrators. At least 24 people have died so far, including 17 in Uttar Pradesh alone.