By Asad Mirza
The NPR and Census 2021 exercise, which was due to be started in the country on April 1, has been deferred by the government for the time being in view of the continuing Corona pandemic and the safety measures in force to counter it. Based on a response by the HM in the parliament recently, some people have started saying that the government is taking a step back, and bowing to the pressure of anti-CAA protestors, it is ready to change tacks.
Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Delhi violence, the HM said that ‘NO’ one would be marked ‘doubtful’ during the NPR, in case he or she is unable to provide the information sought. As per his statement, all information is voluntary, no document would be sought and nobody should fear the NPR.
He also assured members of the Opposition that he was open and ready for discussions with them on the matter. However, no one has noticed that the Opposition so far has not taken up the offer by the HM and no meeting is slated between the two in the near future.
In effect, Home Minister Amit Shah seemed to be reaching out, for the first time, to meet the criticism and apprehensions that data collected under the NPR would be weaponised subsequently by the NRC, which would result, in vulnerable citizens in particular Muslims first and other minorities later, losing their citizenship. Amit Shah’s assurance is welcome, but it isn’t enough. He could have said that there will be no NRC. So this also looks a ploy by the government to further muddy the waters instead of coming out clean on the NPR-NRC-CAA trio.
Another reason why people should be sceptical about HM’s statement is that state assemblies, including those under the control of BJP allies such as Tamil Nadu, have decided to take an unequivocal stand against the NPR. The Tamil Nadu government has announced that it will be putting the NPR on hold. When even the allies of the BJP do not trust the central government, there could be no reason for others to believe.
Indians should be very clear about the chronology of the trio and real aim behind this. The whole process has FOUR stages.
First, personal details of every Indian citizen will be collected by the NPR enumerators, to be completed along with the Census exercise, a ploy to hide that under which head the said information is being collected.
Second, once the information is collected, any one can raise objections to details of any other citizen, in most cases it would be done by low-level government officials, in addition to personal data of every citizen being displayed publicly.
In the third stage, once the ‘Doubtful citizens’ have been identified, they’ll be denied inclusion into the NRC and moreover asked to prove their citizenship, which in the fourth stage will be denied to them under the CAA.
Even a child can understand the flow of information and actions pursuant to information sought, but so much has been hidden from the common citizen and so much confusion has been created that no one is ready to understand the planning besides the Muslims and secular people of the country. All the ‘bhakts’ are only parroting the government’s version.
Leading social and political activist Yogendra Yadav correctly says that Home Minister Amit Shah has given one misleading statement after another and so has PM Modi. He further added that in fact, the Allahabad High Court has recently issued a notice to the central government on a plea, which questioned the exact format of the proposed NPR.
According to Yadav, to assuage public concern regarding the ‘Doubtful’ category government must suitably amend Rule 7(2) and 17 of the 2003 Citizenship and notify it immediately as only that will establish on record that what the HM says will indeed be carried out, as his assurances in the Parliament are not legal or constitutional.
In another of his articles, Yadav argues that the states failing to implement the centre’s diktat on NPR could face dismissal under Art 356. He consuls that to avoid this, states should pressurise the central government to ensure that the data will not be used for NRC and also insist on building more precautions to ensure that the sanctity of the Census and its own legal obligations are not violated.
There could be delay to the NPR exercise because of Coronavirus pandemic. According to reports, the Health Ministry is considering to ask the government to delay the Census and NPR enumeration. Though there are reports that district level officials in various districts of UP are going around filling-up the Census forms in the disguise of seeking information regarding Corona patients.
This delay could perhaps be a boon in disguise for the anti-CAA protestors, who in the extended time could try to fortify their case more strongly for the courts, besides generating public opinion against the controversial law and also trying to influence the judiciary through both the legal and debate process.
Further instance to show the political resolve of the polity becomes clear from the latest ordinance issued by the local government in Kashmir giving full time government jobs to non-Kashmiris in the state along with proposals to buy property.
Thus the need of the hour for the Muslim community is to engage at a much broader level with like minded secular Indians and minority leaders, to finalise a strategy on how to fight this battle on constitutional grounds not a political one, once the country gets out of the lockdown.
Asad Mirza is a Sr journalist based in New Delhi. In his career spanning more than 20 years, he was associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs and interfaith issues. Email: [email protected].
Urdu version of this article appeared in daily Etemaad, Hyderabad, 5 April 2020. English translation has been provided by the author.