Systemic shocks that may accompany an NRC exercise far outweigh national or political gains
Amassive detention centre that can house 3,000 detainees is under construction and Assam is preparing to build ten more such centres, amidst utter confusion over the fates of 19 lakh people excluded from the National Register of Citizens. The seeds of a humanitarian disaster have been sown with many of those excluded claiming to be citizens with documents to prove their case. The mess in Assam notwithstanding, the NRC idea is catching on elsewhere with no thought for document deficient citizens, especially the poor, among us.
On Tuesday, Union home minister Amit Shah promised an NRC in Bengal. “India for Indians” is a legitimate nationalist slogan. But differing interpretations of who is local and non-local in a documentpoor society make attempts to flesh out this theoretical nationalism through exercises such as NRC impractical. Moreover, BJP’s undisguised appeal to non-Muslims promising to cover them through the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) before NRC is implemented has stoked opposition in Assam and other north-east states. Too many states have witnessed regional, linguistic, religious and ethnic chauvinism in the past and all these could just flare up again.
The combination of a religion based CAB and a bureaucratic, arbitrary and error-prone NRC violates basic constitutional rights like equality before law (Article 14) and prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion (Article 15). Alongside such constitutional violations is the failure to articulate a roadmap for NRC and what becomes of those who lose out. Will they be released after serving a jail term and naturalised, or does the government propose to lock them up and throw away the key? Leaving the specifics for later is a sure recipe for social strife.
In the past too India has paid a heavy price when governments lunged into political minefields unmindful of unintended consequences. Congress’s desire to undercut the Akalis by propping up Bhindranwale is a prime example. Following the abrogation of Article 370, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and foreign minister S Jaishankar did an excellent job of promoting India’s narrative on Kashmir internationally. Nevertheless, Pakistan is on a propaganda offensive that attempts to portray India as biased against Muslims. If NRC is now accompanied by mega detention camps holding primarily Muslims, accompanied by large-scale internal migration, states walling off borders against non-locals, and communal discord – it will not only be a domestic catastrophe, the government would have undermined Modi’s and Jaishankar’s valuable work abroad and handed Pakistan an undeserved propaganda victory.