Amid unending turmoil over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens, Centre has sanctioned funds for the National Population Register exercise with the explicit promise that it is not linked to the divisive NRC. Rhetoric on NRC has been dialled down, but the relief has proved short lived with NPR sparking fresh worries. For one, the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, leave little to imagination that a Population Register could be a precursor to finalising a “National Register of Indian Citizens”.
Equally alarming are the 2003 rules which allow anyone to raise objections to entries in the “Local Register of Indian Citizens” at the taluk/ sub-district level. It raises the prospect of genuine citizens in a document-poor country like India being subjected to harassment and witch hunts from neighbours, politically motivated groups, and a dysfunctional lower bureaucracy.
BJP looks out on a limb with this one, as it finds it difficult to convince even its allies, let alone the opposition, that all these enumeration exercises in conjunction with CAA will do more good than harm. Akali Dal now wants Muslim refugees also included in CAA after supporting the legislation in Parliament. Similarly, Assam’s AGP supported CAA in Parliament but is now singing a different tune. Others like JD(U) and BJD, which also supported CAA, are pushing back against NRC. All these parties were mum earlier, despite CAA-NRC’s discriminatory and bureaucratic character as well as NRC’s apparent failure in Assam having been pointed out. While they should have exercised due diligence, BJP should now pay heed and listen to the protesting voices.
But that isn’t happening yet going by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rebuke of the violent protests and unqualified backing for UP police. Videos of the violence implicate both sides. With police constraining the space for peaceful protests the danger of grievances manifesting as violence grows. Acts like booking 1,200 people at Aligarh Muslim University for a candlelight protest mustn’t be repeated. 21 shooting deaths in UP alone are excessive. Many states have said they will not cooperate in these enumeration exercises. A gaping trust deficit is accompanying the gathering storm and it portends misery, chaos and economic ruin. Let’s pull back from this chasm, and focus the nation’s attention instead on what the IMF has billed as the surprising magnitude of India’s slowdown. What the country needs is jobs and economic growth, not “maximum government”.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.