Former Union minister P Chidambaram on Saturday expressed hope that the government would not be foolish enough to penalise those do not cooperate with the National Population Register exercise, Hindustan Times reported. The Congress leader, who is on a visit to Kolkata, was responding to a question on whether there were any penalties that may be imposed for not cooperating with the NPR and census exercises.

The population register is linked to the census, due in 2021, and is described as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”. On December 24, the Cabinet approved funds of Rs 3,900 crore to update the population register. The NRC is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants.

“I hope not. You will have to penalise crores of people,” Chidambaram said. “I believe the Modi government will not do something so foolish.”

The former finance minister said that the West Bengal government was justified in questioning the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act. The state is also entitled to highlight the reasons for not initiating data collection for the population register in the state, he added.

“The state is also entitled to cite law and order situation, widespread opposition among people, the reluctance of state government employees engaged in the exercise and the problems they will encounter at households who do not respond and shut the door,” he added.

The Congress leader described NPR as “nothing but NRC in disguise”. He said that his party’s purpose was to fight the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NPR and “mobilise public opinion against them”, PTI reported. Chidambaram asserted that the party’s stand was that it will not agree to the data collection for the population register.

“We are fighting against NRC and CAA. Sometimes together, sometimes differently,” he said. “The important thing is that we are fighting. All parties fighting against NPR, CAA and NRC must come together and I am confident they will.”

On January 13, Chidambaram had suggested that Modi should select and confront five critics of the amended citizenship law. He had claimed that the only way to clear the public’s doubts on the legislation was to televise a discussion between the prime minister and his critics.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, notified on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised and sparked protests for excluding Muslims. At least 26 people died in protests against the legislation last month.