As protests against the new citizenship law swelled nationwide and there was a pushback from state governments and even its allies, the first voices from the government and the ruling BJP were heard Friday climbing down on the plan for a pan-India National Register for Citizens (NRC).
While JD(U) president and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said the NRC would not be implemented in Bihar, Lok Janshakti Party president Chirag Paswan said his party would not support any legislation which is not in the interest of the common people. Both are BJP’s allies in Bihar and had supported the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament.
In Patna, breaking his silence on the NRC, Nitish said: “Kahe ke liye laagu hoga, ekdum nahi laagu hoga (Why should it (NRC) be implemented? It will not be implemented (in Bihar)”. And Paswan weighed in: “The way demonstrations are taking place in the country, linking the CAB with the NRC… it has become clear that the government has been unsuccessful in removing the misconception among an important category.”
Chirag Paswan tweeted a letter he had written to Home Minister Amit Shah on December 6 demanding that an NDA meeting be convened to discuss the CAB before it was tabled in Parliament. His father, Ram Vilas Paswan, is a minister in the Narendra Modi government.
Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said there is “no plan for a nationwide NRC” and that “there has so far been no discussion on the matter at any level of government.”
“It’s premature to talk about NRC as the government has not yet made any details about it available,” BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, in charge of northeastern states, told The Indian Express. “Right now, the focus is on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. NRC is a proposed activity Home Minister has announced to be taken up in 2021. No details have been made available to us. It’s premature to talk about it. There are no details available about it.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Naqvi added: “NRC is limited to Assam. There is no plan of NRC in any other part of the country. You are talking about an unborn baby…Spreading rumours about it.”
Asked about statements from top BJP leaders including one from its working president J P Nadda on Thursday reiterating BJP’s promise on a nationwide NRC, Madhav said: “…It’s an announcement made by the Home Minister. Since it has to happen two years down the line and no details have yet been made known to the country, this is not the time to talk about the NRC.”
These remarks signal a climbdown on the stand reiterated by Home Minister Amit Shah that the NRC will follow the controversial act. And that every illegal Indian will be picked up “one by one.” Shah had clearly said that the “chronology will be that the CAB will be succeeded by NRC.”
Naqvi’s remarks marl the first time a government functionary has clearly said there is no plan for NRC across the country after Shah, while replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, made references to a countrywide NRC. He had also committed to an all-India NRC while addressing BJP workers in Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium in October this year.
Reminded about Shah’s statements, Naqvi said: “Who is NRC for? It is for Indian nationals. Does it say it is only about Indian Muslims? No, it does not. NRC, if it at all happens…no government can do it surreptitiously. That is why the government has clarified, issued advertisements and said that there is no process on that yet, no discussion at any level in the government so far on a nationwide NRC.”
The NRC is the register containing names of Indian citizens. The only time an NRC was prepared was in 1951 when, after the Census that year, particulars of all persons enumerated during that Census were listed. The NRC, according to the office of the state coordinator of NRC in Assam, has now been updated “to include names of those persons (or their descendants) who appear in the NRC, 1951, or in any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 or in any one of the other admissible documents issued upto mid-night of 24th March, 1971, which would prove their presence in Assam or in any part of India on or before 24th March, 1971.”
In the RS, replying to a question by nominated MP Swapan Dasgupta, Shah had said: “…The NRC exercise in Assam was undertaken as per an order of the Supreme Court and as per a separate Act. When the NRC exercise is replicated across the country, it will naturally have to be redone in Assam. I want to again make it clear that followers of no religion should feel scared. Everybody will be included in NRC. As for the gazette notification that the member referred to, it is applicable across the country.”
In December last year, the Home Ministry (then under Rajnath Singh) had told the Lok Sabha in a reply: “The exercise to update NRC 1951 is being conducted under the special provisions in respect of State of Assam under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules, 2003. At present, there is no proposal to extend the National Register of Citizens to states other than Assam.”
While JD(U)’s national vice-president Prashant Kishor had said last week that Nitish does not support a pan-India NRC, this is the first time that the Bihar Chief Minister has spoken out on the issue. He joined a list of chief ministers, including Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, who have opposed the NRC.
“The Lok Janshakti Party assures that it will take care of the concerns of the Muslims, Dalits and the weaker sections regarding the NRC. The LJP will not support any legislation which is not in the interest of the common people. It is the responsibility of the government to explain to those who are protesting against the NRC. As an ally, the LJP urges the government to allay the apprehensions of protesters by reaching out to them,” Chirag Paswan said.