Two weeks after the Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, widespread protests continue against the law as well as plans for nationwide NRC and the nod to NPR. Taken by surprise and on the back foot at least for a week in face of the protests, the ruling party has turned aggressive and is starting demonstrations in support of its policies.
For over a fortnight, various cities of India have seen widespread protests against the CAA, in which at least 25 people have been killed by police firing and thousands have been jailed for raising their voice against what they perceived to be a discriminatory and unconstitutional law.
However, as the protests intensify across India the ruling party that had vowed to bring in nationwide NRC seems to be rather changing its tune now, thus confusing not just its own members but also citizens in general. For over a year, various BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah have repeatedly said that the CAA would be followed by a National Register of Citizens, despite the flopped NRC prepared for Assam, which declared nearly two million residents as being illegal migrants. The list of these ‘illegal migrants’ included the family of a former President of India and a decorated officer of the Indian Army.
Amit Shah, during the debate on Citizenship Act in Parliament, had said nationwide NRC will be implemented soon. Also in April, he laid out the chronology for the process, telling reporters: “First, there will be a Citizenship Amendment Bill … after that, there will be an NRC.”
However, in face of the protests, Modi announced at a rally on Sunday that his government hadn’t discussed NRC, a verified digital register of citizens, in parliament or the cabinet. Soon after Modi’s statement, Shah also changed tracks saying that there are no talks of bringing NRC across the country. Within hours, the Bharatiya Janata Party deleted all tweets and videos where its leaders, notably Shah, had claimed that NRC would be brought in all over India.
Before the end of the day, however, several news organisations and fact checkers listed dozens of occasions on which Shah and several other BJP leaders had proclaimed, even in the Parliament just a few days earlier, that an NRC would be conducted soon.
Another point of confusion created by the BJP leaders is about detention centres that are being built to house ‘illegal migrants’. At the rally in Delhi, Modi had said, “People are not being sent to detention centres as there aren’t any detention centres in the country.” However, Amit Shah said, “Detention centres are a continuous process. This country has some laws, we cannot let anyone who enters the country illegally to live here. When these people get caught, they are put in detention centres for trial.”
As if this was not enough the government is now back with a new proposal of National Population Register (NPR). The Cabinet on December 24 gave its go-ahead for Census 2021 and updation of the National Population Register (NPR), while making it clear that there was no plan to use the updated NPR data for creating a National Register of Citizens (NRC).
As mentioned in the amendment to the Citizenship Act, it was widely believed that the NRC will follow updation of the NPR. But again Shah has taken a U turn and said that NPR and NRC are not linked, and no thought had been given to the NRC. “There is no link between the NRC and the NPR. The data collected for the NPR will not be used in the NRC.”
However, again in its first term, the Narendra Modi government told Parliament at least nine times that NRC will be conducted on the basis of NPR data even calling the former a “logical conclusion” of the latter.
The Union Cabinet on December 24 approved a proposal to conduct Census 2021 and update the National Population Register (NPR). While the Census will be conducted in 2021, the NPR update will take place from April to September 2020 in all the States/UTs except Assam. According to the sources, the Union Cabinet has approved a proposal of the home ministry to spend INR 87.54 billion for the Census 2021 and INR 39.41 billion for updating the NPR.
Seeing the statements given by the leaders that are at best half truths and blatant lies at the worst, several protestors and civil society leaders as well as the opposition leaders questioned on the truthfulness of the Prime Minister and his team. Harsh Mander, social activist &a retired bureaucrat told an Indian media, “If I look back at the history of this Republic, I can’t think of a single moment where the trust in the government had been so low. PM Narendra Modi is indulging in absolutely brazen, bare-faced lies when he claims that no discussion has taken place on the NRC. In fact, home minister Amit Shah has spoken about it numerous times and linked it with the CAA.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. As many as 59 pleas challenge the validity of the new law on various grounds — including that it violates the concept of secularism and the right to equality under the Constitution. However, as has become the norm for the country’s highest court, a matter that has stired the entire nation has been posted for hearing several weeks later.
Prashant Kishor, the vice-president of the Janata Dal (United), has warned that even though the government is claiming that there has been no mention of a nationwide NRC, the same government could change tack if the court’s decision went its way.“Govt could wait till SC judgement on CAA. A favourable court order and the whole process will be back,” tweeted Kishor.
With its back to the wall, the ruling party has also begun to hit back at the protestors by organising rallies in its support, even if belatedly. A “#CAASupportMarch” in support of CAA and NRC was conducted at August Kranti Maidan in Mumbai on December 27. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionaries and seers attended the march. Similarly, Bhopal witnessed a similar demonstration on December 26 that was attended by many lawyers, doctors, students and BJP workers.
Expect the ruling party to up the ante as it tries to recover lost ground and initiative for the first time since its romped to power in 2014. Worryingly for the government, though, students all over the country seem to be set dead against the CAA and the images of police brutally trying to stop youth rallies, deaths of over 25 protestors and detention of nearly 7,000 persons,as well as the repeated and large-scale internet shut downs have made global headlines and definitely not earned Modi and his party any brownie points overseas.