The Kerala government challenge to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the Supreme Court, making it a formal Centre-state dispute, marks a new phase in the opposition to the contentious legislation. Coupled with the possibility of more states refusing to take up works related to the National Population Register, the Centre has a real problem on its hands, and one that it walked into despite getting advance warning from the vociferous protests in north-east states.
What has made Centre’s position difficult was the frequent invocation of a nationwide National Register of Citizens to follow CAA by government functionaries led by home minister Amit Shah. Though Centre has dialled back from this course, the almost simultaneous sanctioning of funds for the NPR exercise and the CAA has ended up likening it to the NRC. The course suggested in the Citizenship Rules 2003 to use NPR to create a National Register of Indian Citizens and a Local Register of Indian Citizens is creating another battleground, evident in the letter written by 106 retired civil servants cautioning against the disruptive nature of the exercise.
Given these circumstances, Centre must carry the states along if it wishes to make meaningful progress on integrating refugees and identifying illegal immigrants. The National Development Council comprising the Prime Minister, Union Cabinet and Chief Ministers offers an ideal forum for a meeting of minds. The Modi government can look at its own success in bringing states on board through the GST Council to follow the same course at yet another difficult juncture in Centre-state relations.