While Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that there has been no discussion on a National Register of Citizens (NRC) since the time his government was first elected in 2014, senior ministers and party leaders, including Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP working president J P Nadda, have made public statements about a pan-India exercise — as recently as earlier this month.
The BJP’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections also promised NRC in “other parts of the country in a phased manner”. Under the headline, ‘Combating Infiltration’, the manifesto said the party would complete the process of NRC in areas where illegal migration has affected people’s livelihood and employment. “In future, we will implement NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country,” it said.
But, signalling a climbdown, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told The Indian Express on Friday: “As far as NRC is concerned, it is limited to Assam. There is no plan of NRC in any other part of the country. You are talking about an unborn baby.”
In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Shah had raised the pitch in West Bengal, where the BJP sought to use the “illegal immigrant” issue as a major poll plank to consolidate the Hindu votes against the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC government in the state.
# Addressing a poll rally in Darjeeling on April 11, Shah said: “We have promised in the manifesto that after Narendra Modi returns to power, the NRC will be implemented across the country. The BJP will carry out the task of picking every inflitrator and throwing them out. But every Hindu and Buddhist refugee will be meticulously identified and given Indian citizenship.”
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# On May 1, addressing another poll rally in West Bengal, Shah said CAB would be followed by NRC. “First we will pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and ensure that all the refugees from the neighbouring nations get Indian citizenship. After that, NRC will be made and we will detect and deport every infiltrator from our motherland,” he said.
# In a YouTube video uploaded on BJP’s official website on April 23, Shah is seen as saying: “First the CAB will come. All refugees will get citizenship. Then NRC will come. This is why refugees should not worry, but infilitrators should. Understand the chronology — CAB will come and then NRC. NRC is not just for Bengal, it’s for the entire country.”
# In fact, Shah raised the issue as early as on September 8, 2018, when, while addressing the BJP National Executive meeting at Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, he said: “Our stand on NRC is very clear, every infiltrator will be identified and will be thrown out of India”.
# A few days later, on September 17, 2018, he asked former Congress president Rahul Gandhi to clarify his position on NRC and illegal migrants. Alleging that they were a threat to national security, he said they should be taken off the voters’ list.
# Even after becoming the Home Minister, Shah continued to speak on NRC, outside Assam too.
# During the debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Lok Sabha on December 9, Shah categorically said NRC would be brought across the country. “We don’t need to set a background for the NRC. We will bring the NRC across the country. Not a single infiltrator will be spared,” Shah said.
# In the debate in Rajya Sabha two days later, he was silent on NRC. However, while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha on November 21, Shah said: “The process of National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be carried out across the country. No one, irrespective of their religion, should be worried. It is just a process to get everyone under the NRC.”
# In the run-up to the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections in October, Shah repeatedly talked about a pan-India NRC at his rallies.
# Although he toned down the rhetoric during the Jharkhand poll campaign, while addressing a rally in West Singhbhum on December 2, Shah said: “…the Congress says don’t implement NRC, don’t send infiltrators. We will implement NRC in the entire country and send each and every infiltrator outside the country by the 2024 elections.”
# On December 14, addressing an election rally in Jharkhand, Rajnath Singh said a nationwide NRC was “inevitable”, and nothing could deter the government from implementing it. “Subsequent to NRC exercise, we shall sit together and take a call about the fate of illegal migrants who have settled here with a humane approach, unlike the way they are being treated in several other countries,” he said.
# On December 19, even as protests spread across the country, Nadda asserted that the CAA would be implemented and, “going forward, NRC also will be brought in”. “India is marching ahead under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will continue to do so. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act will be implemented, so will the NRC in future,” he said.
# On June 20, President Ram Nath Kovind, in his first address to MPs after the 17th Lok Sabha was constituted, said: “Illegal infiltrators pose a major threat to our internal security. This is leading to social imbalance in many parts of the country, as well as putting huge pressure on limited livelihood opportunities. My government has decided to implement the process of National Register of Citizens on priority basis in areas affected by infiltration. Security along the border will be further strengthened to prevent infiltration.” The presidential address is considered to be the policy declaration of the government.
Meanwhile, while Modi said there are no detention centres in India, Minister of State (Home) Nityananda Rai, while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha on December 11, said instructions have been issued to all states for setting up detention centres to detain illegal migrants or convicted foreigners pending deportation to their country. “Consolidated instructions on the subject contained in model detention / holding centres manual have also been circulated by the government to all state/ Union administrators on 9-1-2019. Government has approved detention centre in Matia, Goalpara Assam at an estimated cost of RS 46 51 20563,” he said.
In September, The Indian Express had also reported on the ongoing work to build the detention centre in Assam’s Goalpara.