Hyper­na­tional Haz­ard

Sys­temic shocks that may ac­com­pany an NRC ex­er­cise far out­weigh na­tional or po­lit­i­cal gains

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas -

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.

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