Speaking at an election rally Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said about the National Register of Citizens: “Yeh Congress ke zamane mein bana tha. Tab soye the kya? Hamne to banaya nahi. Parliament mein aaya nahi. Na cabinet mein aaya hai. Na uske koi niyam qaide bane hain. (It came in the era of the Congress. Were critics sleeping then? We didn’t make it. We didn’t bring it in Parliament. It hasn’t come up in the cabinet. Neither have any rules or regulations been made for it.)”
He is right in blaming the Congress, if he was referring to the Assam NRC. Both the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC) as well as the Assam Accord that promised its update are legacies of Congress governments, for better or for worse.
But if he was referring to an all-India NRC, then it was introduced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003 by amending the Citizenship Act of 1955.
As per the 2003 amendment, the Indian government shall count all its citizens and create a National Population Register or NPR. The government will then verify the citizenship of the people counted. Once it does, the verified citizens will become part of another document, the “National Register of Indian Citizens”.
A year from now, we may be talking about NRIC, not NRC.
NPR is the input; NRIC is the output.
NPR is step one. Verification of citizenship is step two. NRIC is step three.
NPR-NRIC have nothing to do with the Census, except that they are carried out by the same authority: the Registrar General of India.
The NPR exercise is undertaken every 10 years along with the “house-listing” phase of the Census of India. Hence, the first NPR exercise took place in 2010-11 and was updated in 2015 — under, yes, a Congress-led regime. But the Manmohan Singh government did not take the next step of creating an NRIC by verifying the citizenship claims of citizens from the NPR.
In other words, the Narendra Modi government doesn’t have to carry out an all-India NRIC. But the NPR, which is the first step, begins in April 2020 and is scheduled to end by September 2020, and Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly said it will happen. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, has said it will happen “on priority”. But the government still has time to mull over this.
Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy, has clearly said the Modi government intends to carry out NRIC but it has not been formally announced, and its procedures not laid out yet.
Why your passport doesn’t make you an Indian citizen
A small change in the NPR exercise this time makes it clear that the government is serious about verifying the citizenship status of every person.
Unlike the 2010-11 NPR, the exercise this time will also ask you the date and place of birth of both your parents.
This small addition changes everything, given how Indian citizenship laws are.
According to the Citizenship Act of 1955, you are a citizen of India if you were born in India between 26 January 1950 and 1 July 1987. No questions asked. You only have to prove your own date and place of birth.
But if you were born between 2 July 1987 and 2 December 2004, at least one of your parents must be an Indian citizen by birth. In other words, the Modi government could ask you to prove the citizenship of at least one of your parents. If you cannot, you may be declared a non-citizen — never mind that you were born in India and have an Indian passport.
If you were born on or after 3 December 2004, you may have an even bigger problem. In that case, even if one of your parents is proven to be an “illegal immigrant” at the time of his/her birth, you are not an Indian citizen — it doesn’t matter whether you were born in India, have an Indian passport or a voter ID card.
These rules make it clear that the Modi government will check the citizenship status of your parents in case you were born on or after 2 July 1987.
That is why the NPR is going to ask everyone the place and date of birth of their parents this time.
If you were born in 1987, you would be 32 years old. The median age of India is 28, meaning that half of India’s population is 28 or younger. So, even if you were born before 1987, you might well be proving your Indian citizenship beyond doubt for your children. In this way, almost every Indian family might have to prove its citizenship, with family tree and ancestry.
Once the NPR process is complete, the Modi government may choose to go ahead with the NRIC (which the Manmohan Singh government did not). PM Modi did not say Sunday that the NRIC will not take place; he only said that it hasn’t been initiated yet. That’s because its formal announcement can wait until the NPR is over.
Should the NRIC take place, the government might process the NPR data to check the citizenship status of the parents of those born on or after 2 July 1987. No wonder the Home Ministry deleted this tweet:
NRIC as imagined by L.K. Advani
The Modi government says it is yet to take a call and decide on the rules, but the rules were already well laid out by the Vajpayee government in 2003-04, when L.K. Advani was both Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. It may be recalled that ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’ were a matter of great concern for Advani as well.
The rules are known as “The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003”. This is how an all-India NRIC might be carried out unless the Modi government amends these rules.
They make it compulsory for every Indian to enrol in the NPR, and state governments have to co-operate with the exercise.
The rules say, “the Local Register of Indian citizens shall contain details of persons after due verification made from the Population Register.”
How will this process of verification be carried out? Paraphrasing from them:
Step 1: The local registrar (LR) shall verify the particulars of every family and individual. If the LR thinks your citizenship claim is “doubtful,” s/he may mark your name “with appropriate remark… for further enquiry.”
You shall be “informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over” that you have been marked ‘doubtful’.
Step 2: You and other ‘doubtful’ members of your family “shall be given an opportunity of being heard by the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration, before a final decision is taken to include or to exclude” you from the NRIC.
If you are excluded, don’t lose hope. There are many more stages for you to walk through before you might be declared ‘illegal’.
Step 3: “The Sub-district or Taluk Registrar shall finalise his findings within a period of ninety days of the entry being made.”
After three months of anxiety, you might find that they need more time — the rules allow them to take more time if they need it.
Step 4: After the sub-district or taluka registrar has taken a final call, s/he shall publish a Local Registrar of Indian Citizens (LRIC) for your sub-district or taluka.
Don’t be too excited if your name is on it, because it may still be excluded.
Once the LRIC is published, anyone can object to your name on the list. Your neighbour might suspect you are an illegal immigrant and raise an objection before the sub-district or taluka registrar that you are ‘doubtful’. You go back to proving your citizenship.
If your name was not on the LRIC anyway, you may make another claim. Got the documents? You have 30 days to submit your claim, or to object to your neighbour’s claim of citizenship.
Step 5: In the last stage, “The Sub-district or Taluk Registrar shall consider such objections and summarily dispose off the same within a period of ninety days.” Having done so, s/he gives his final list to the District Registrar of Indian Citizens (DRIC).
If you are still unhappy, you could go to the DRIC and make a claim for your inclusion and someone else’s exclusion. You have 30 days to do so. Thereafter, the DRIC has 90 days to take a final call.
After that, the list goes to the NRIC, the National Registrar of Indian Citizens.
And that’s that. Nothing happens at the state level. If you are still excluded, perhaps you have the courts to go to.
Did Darjeeling Gorkhas come from Bangladesh?
A similar exercise has just finished in Assam. Similar, but not the same. The Assam NRC is an update of the 1951 NRC and you don’t have to prove your citizenship if you entered the state before 31 March 1971. The all-India NRIC proposed by the Vajpayee government has nothing to do with 1951 or 1971 NRC for Assam.
And yet, the business of proving your parent’s citizenship is similar, even if it applies only to those born on or after 2 July 1987.
Since the Lok Sabha campaign this year, many BJP leaders have talked about holding an all-India NRC. Most notable has been BJP president Amit Shah, who is now the Home Minister. Even PM Modi has told Times Now that in his opinion, India needs a countrywide NRC.
In Assam, around 40 lakh people didn’t make it to the draft NRC list. There was a second round of checking the claims of these 40 lakh, and eventually, in August 2019, over 19 lakh were excluded. Some of these were Hindu Gorkhas, perhaps one lakh of them.
Addressing an election rally in Darjeeling in April 2019, Amit Shah said, “Didi (Mamata Banerjee) scares you that Gorkhas will have a problem with the NRC… If there’s anyone more Indian than me, it is the Gorkhas… We have brought the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Gorkhas do not need to have any fear.”
Amit Shah on CAA-NRC-1 pic.twitter.com/XE4v9UlcI9
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) December 20, 2019
Now that the CAB has become law, the Modi government insists it is not about Indian citizens. But if Gorkhas in Assam and Bengal are already Indian citizens, why was Shah telling them that the CAB is the reason they don’t need to fear the NRC?
Did the Gorkhas of northeast India come from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan?
Not that they will have to prove anything because Amit Shah has also said they won’t need to show any documents:
Amit Shah on CAA-NRC 7 pic.twitter.com/367eTUJ1M2
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) December 20, 2019
The Modi government could have found many ways to make citizenship easier for refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the government’s intent is to help the religious minorities persecuted in these countries, why has it put a deadline of 31 December 2014? Have religious minorities stopped being persecuted in the three countries after 31 December 2014?
The answer is that the CAA’s real intent is to give citizenship to Indian citizens who may be rendered stateless by full implementation of the NRIC according to the 2003 rules — except Muslim Indians. Amit Shah has made the link repeatedly clear:
We will ensure implementation of NRC in the entire country. We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs : Shri @AmitShah #NaMoForNewIndia pic.twitter.com/yo2RgWsrQz
— BJP Bengal (@BJP4Bengal) April 11, 2019
Those who are unable to prove their citizenship may then be divided into “refugees” and “infiltrators” based on their religion.
The non-soil Muslims
After the CAA filter, we will be left with only Muslims who couldn’t prove their citizenship because their parents didn’t have birth certificates etc.
“Jo Hindustan ki mitti ke musalman hain, jinki purkhein Maa Bharti ki santaan hain, unhein CAA aurNRC se koi lena dena nahi hai. (The Muslims who belong to the soil of Hindustan, whose ancestors were the children of Mother India, they have nothing to do with CAA or NRC.)”
If an all-India NRIC takes place, the Muslims excluded may be told: You are not the Muslims of the soil of Hindustan. Your ancestors weren’t the children of Mother India. You can appeal to prove your case, but you can fail too.
What shall be done with these ‘non-soil’ Muslims? They might be put in detention centres. According to a report in Mumbai Mirror, the Modi government in July asked all state governments to identify land for detention centres to hold illegal immigrants.
PM Modi said Sunday that detention centres are a figment of ‘urban Naxals’’ imagination. The only solution then is the Bay of Bengal, where Amit Shah suggested the “infiltrators” should be thrown into.
Since the CAB became law, we have been repeatedly told that the CAA and the NRC have nothing to do with each other. In truth, they are inextricably linked, part of the same law — the Citizenship Act of 1955. An all-India NRC was added to the Act by Vajpayee-Advani in 2003, and legalising ‘refugees’ on the basis of their religion was added by Modi-Shah in 2019.
Both are dangerous ideas even by themselves. Ideally, both must go.
Put together, they make the Citizenship Act of 1955 a lethal weapon to render those Indian Muslims stateless who may not have such documents that the government may decide are necessary to prove citizenship. The burden of proof will be on the Indian Muslim — alone.
Views are personal.