In an exclusive interview, the Thiruvananthapuram MP says this cannot be done without the co-operation of state governments
Priorities of the Bharatiya Janatha Party-led government reveal that it is serious about conducting the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in all states across the country, Dr Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, said.
“The trajectory of this government’s priorities, legislative and administrative decisions suggest that it is serious about its intent to conduct the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in all states across the country,” Tharoor told The Lede in an exclusive interview.
The NRC is a register, maintained by the Indian government with names and certain relevant information for identification of all Indian citizens. The register was first prepared after the 1951 Census of India and since then has not been updated until recently.
The Supreme Court initiated the NRC update on 17 December 2014, through an order in the case of Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha vs Union of India.
The process officially started in 2015 and the updated final NRC was released on 31 August with over 1.9 million applicants failing to make it to the NRC list.
Interestingly, after protests of the exclusion of many Hindus from the Assam NRC list, the Ministry of Home Affairs declared that the NRC would be carried out again in Assam.
And on November 20, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said in parliament that the NRC would be prepared for every state in the country. He has not, however, revealed officially how or when the process will be carried out.
While in Assam, citizens were asked to submit the proof of citizenship themselves to NRC Seva Kendras, it is yet not sure how the same model will be implemented across the entire country.
Also, the Assam NRC was mandated through a special exception for the state in the Citizenship Act, 2003 and the process was overseen by the Supreme Court.
At present, no such guidelines exist for a countrywide updating of the list. And it is learned that if a nationwide NRC is carried out, it will be under the direction of the Union government.
However, Tharoor says that this cannot be done without the co-operation of the state governments, and he believes that the vast majority of non-BJP state governments will not co-operate with such a divisive exercise.
“It has already generated fears among the people, and I shudder to imagine what will happen if it is carried out at the national level. The NRC in Assam was deeply flawed and proved administratively and politically disastrous. Replicating those flaws nationwide is both unwise and foolhardy,” he added.
Chief ministers of Assam, Punjab, and Kerala have already said that they will not carry out NRC and Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA).
While the NRC list categorised people based on religion and nationality, the new Citizenship Act 2019 (CAA) issued in the gazette on December 12, provides fast-track citizenship to six religions from three countries. But it does not afford the same facility to Muslim migrants from these three countries.
Both the NRC and the CAA have created tension all over India. The protests which had started from Indian campuses have now spread to many cities, including the national capital.
Reportedly, three have been shot dead during the protests, internet connection has been shut down in many states, political leaders have been taken into custody and Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code has been imposed in many places to prevent unlawful assembly of people.
“Even though this government has the numbers in Parliament and have formed governments in various states, the BJP must remember that they represent only 37 percent of the total vote share in the 2019 general elections,” Tharoor said adding that a large majority of the people in the country do not stand for the divisive and hate-mongering politics of the Modi-Shah led BJP, as evidenced by the mounting uproar across the country.
Lauding the student-led protests as a positive recourse to expressing dissent and disapproval of this government’s policies, Tharoor hopes that more Indians who disagree with this blatant corrosion of Indian values will take a more active role in expressing their disagreement.
He also said that in addition to the non-cooperation of Opposition-led state governments, an interjection by the Supreme Court on the validity and the necessity of the NRC may also prevent its implementation across the nation.
When asked whether the NRC is a good thing from the viewpoint of data required to frame policies and for governance, Dr Tharoor said that data is also collected by way of the census, a decennial exercise conducted by a subsidiary of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“The census is a large project in demographic mapping and therefore, it employs the knowledge required for data collection and assimilation. The parameters on which it is conducted are clearly defined and may be updated as and when required. The NRC, on the other hand, appears to be an arbitrary project propelled by the government to fan communal fears,” he said adding that the data required for targeted policy design if the government chooses to follow it, can be attained from the census.
“As such, the argument that NRC would help in framing better policies is untenable,” he added.
While talking about the Indian National Congress (INC) joining the protests, he said that the party has always protected the Constitution of India and endorsed its values.
Tharoor said that the Congress has and will continue to support the students in their protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and strongly condemn police brutality towards the students of Jamia Milia Islamia and elsewhere.
“The party has not only challenged the constitutional validity of the CAA in the Supreme Court, but it has also taken up the issue of the police crackdown to the President of India. Across the country, as students march in protest against these politics of hatred championed by the flag bearers of RSS’ communal ideology, the Congress party will support them and give strength to their efforts,” he said adding that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra led the Congress protest at the India Gate and Sonia Gandhi led the Opposition delegation to the President.
“In regional towns too, leaders from the Congress party have taken charge in protests. I have been active in addressing large crowds in Thrissur, Kozhikode, and Palakkad,” he added.
On the muzzling of the protests, Tharoor said that they are deeply distressed by how the police conducted itself in both these universities, particularly towards female students, many of whom allege sexual harassment at the hands of the police personnel.
He added that he strongly and wholeheartedly supports the students and youth of India who have openly challenged and protested against the undemocratic acts of this government.
“The youth is the future of the country and I am heartened to see them defend the ethos of liberalism, secularism, and equality that our forefathers enshrined in the Constitution,” Tharoor said.
While offering his encouragement and undiminishing support, he said that he is humbled by the courage and determination shown by the young student protesters (and others) spontaneously throughout the nation.
“I honestly don't think they need a political party to hijack them. All parties should stand with them and support them with all the capacities at our command. We, for our part, are doing so,” he added.