Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap] Fuel to the fire: On Cabinet announcement on NPR

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NPR

Mains level : NPR - NRC - CAA

Context

The Union Cabinet announced that the National Population Register (NPR) would be updated across the country, barring Assam, at an expense of over ₹3,941.35 crores.

What it means

  • It would have been considered a routine administrative measure but for the concerns among the public about the government’s intentions. 
  • The announcement on the NPR came amid continuing protests against the recent Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, in many parts of the country.
  • There is also a lingering uncertainty regarding the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). 

What government says

  • Prime Minister said that the NRIC had not been discussed in the government, but that did not mean that it would not be taken up. 
  • His assurance that no Indian of any religion will be adversely affected by the controversial CAA rings hollow when the government has not cleared the air that it has no plans for an elaborate plan to tabulate citizens. 

NRC

  • The NRC, as it was rolled out in Assam, puts the burden of proof on citizens to establish that they are indeed citizens. 
  • The undocumented and the poor will bear the brunt of this approach. 
  • The proposed format for enumerating the NPR only exacerbates this concern. It adds a third axis to the ongoing confusion and turmoil.

NPR

  • The NPR is not about citizenship but only about residency. 
  • When additional questions such as “place of birth of father and mother”, etc are being proposed for the forthcoming exercise, the concern that this may be a prelude to the NRIC is logical.
  • It is nobody’s argument that the state should not enumerate the population or collect data on the people. 

Problem with the actions

  • Never in the past did the prospects of a religious test for citizenship appear even remotely in this country. 
  • In 2014, the BJP election manifesto explicitly stated that India was a natural homeland for “persecuted Hindus”. 
  • The government made the now-familiar, and extremely problematic, the distinction between “infiltrators” and “refugees”. 
  • With the passage of the CAA and the announcement of the NRIC, there is the factual basis for doubting the government’s claim that the NPR has nothing to do with the NRIC.

Way ahead

  • In the current climate of panic among a significant section of the country’s poor and the Muslim minorities, the government must speak up to bolster their confidence in India’s constitutional democracy. 
  • Equivocation, and polarising grandstanding on the CAA, the NRIC, and NPR, may yield political dividends for the government but at a very high cost to the nation.
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