The National Citizens Register Or A Schindler’s List ?

The BJP. it would appear, has just hit upon the mother lode of votes for 2019. I refer, of course, to the final list of citizens ( it is not a draft, as being misreported)- the NRC, or National Register of Citizens- released last week for Assam. It proposes to declare four million people as aliens and illegal immigrants, more than 10% of the current population of Assam. Just how shoddily the enumeration has been done is self evident from the glitches that are now piling up. People whose names appeared in the first draft, or who had been declared Indian citizens by the Foreigners’ Tribunals, now find their names missing. A father is included, but his children are missing. One brother is a citizen, the other is not. A retired soldier who served in the Indian army for 30 years is now deemed an alien. There are unconfirmed reports that the Chief Secretary’s wife also finds her name missing. An ex- President’s family members are missing too. A sitting BJP MLA is no longer an Indian citizen. The central and Assam govts. may try to hide behind the subterfuge that ” everything is being monitored by the Supreme Court” but it just won’t wash. It is govt. functionaries at the ground level who are doing the actual verification, not the Court, and it’s quite clear that they have made a mess of it, either by the usual ineptitude or prodding by the ruling party. Little wonder then that almost all political parties other than the BJP and the serial fence sitter in Odisha are up in arms against this suspect version of the NRC. Thankfully, the community wise figures have not yet been made public, but even a cretin  (not all are in the ruling party) knows which community will form the majority of these new aliens.

The Home Minister may talk about a fair appeals process for these victims of history and politics  (a nightmare for the poor, illiterate, confused would- be deportees), forgetting about the 30 million cases already pending in our courts. How on earth can a ram shackle, proven inefficient administration decide four million appeals in a month, which is the time given? Is the Supreme Court inadvertently playing into the BJP’s Machiavellian plans by insisting on short timelines and ultra quick finalisation of the names? The BJP would like nothing better than to disenfranchise these millions before the elections in 2019, and a fair procedure be damned. But my worry is that, given the majoritarian lawlessness prevailing these days, matters may even slip out of the govt’s hands. It is now the vigilantes who will call the shots, reminding us of the horrors of Nellie more than three decades ago. Names will be conveniently leaked, mobs will appear from the saffron dusk, the police will look the other way, and a non-state deportation will start to take effect. The Supreme Court, of course, has directed on the 31st of July that no coercive steps should be taken against those not included in the  NRC, but the court is only a necessary nuisance for the government of the day- the idle wind of Billy Bunter books which nobody heeds. The real directions have already started coming from the likes of Mr. Subramaniam Swamy and other BJP leaders who have already demanded immediate deportation of these unfortunates. The clarion call has been issued by Mr. Amit Shah himself who in Parliament branded these unfortunates as ” ghuspaithias” or intruders; this antakshri cue has been picked up by the two English news channels whose servility is descending to new depths every day. Guess whose voice will be heard loud and clear, while the Union govt. does its Uriah Heep act, pleading that it has issued advisories and that law and order is a state subject?
But a more frightening dimension is now emerging- the rising crescendo of demands ( by BJP leaders, naturally) that the NRC exercise should be rolled out to other states, notably West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Manipur. It will soon spread to Delhi, UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, even Kashmir, where Bangladeshis and Rohingyas are perceived to be residing. If that happens, the country will simply disintegrate and Sashi Tharoor will be proved right. The first steps have already been taken in Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh where travellers are being told to prove their identity and citizenship before being allowed in- by mobs, euphemistically called non-state actors. This will inevitably spread to other states, a sure fire recipe for anarchy, mob violence and Balkanisation of the country.
This is precisely why I say the BJP has struck the mother lode just before election time. Its usual Hindutva suspects had succumbed to the law of diminishing returns- Ram mandir, love jihad, ghar wapasi, triple talak, Islamic terror, forced conversions- and were either losing steam or were being knocked down by the courts. The Assam NRC exercise has suddenly provided it the oxygen its diseased body needs; the new battle cry will be that ” India’s resources should be the entitlement of Indian citizens only”, which, it is confident, will resonate pan India and sweep it back to its blood soaked throne.
Lost in the din and screams will be the very principles of citizenship and humanity. The issue here is not one about legality but about intent and legitimacy. Make no mistake: the BJP”s NRC jubilation has nothing to do with national security, but everything to do with votes. Mr. Arun Jaitley gave the game away in his blog the other day when he said that these non-citizens were ” imported votebanks.” But the party has a problem even here- about one million of this four million could be Hindus, mostly from districts in lower Assam where Muslims already have a sizeable vote share. Their exclusion now will hand four Parliamentary seats to the opposition on a platter. So expect the govt. now to neutralise this by pushing hard the Bill to amend the Citizenship Act: it provides that non- Muslim illegal migrants can be conferred Indian citizenship since they are genuine refugees! This sinister game plan will become clearer with each passing day, believe me.
With all due respects to the Supreme Court, this disenfranchisement exercise lacks a wider legitimacy. As Nicholas Chamfort had said: ” It’s easier to make certain things legal than to make them legitimate.” The NRC exemplifies this perfectly. No one can doubt a sovereign nation’s powers to define citizenship, whether it is based on the principle of ” Jus Solis” ( place of birth) or ” Jus sanguinis”( blood ties), or a combination of the two ( as is the case in India). The problem with the Assam case, however, is that the NRC is being updated after 67 years, to exclude people who have been living in the country for almost five decades ( i.e. after 1971, the cut off date according to the Assam Accord of 1985). Had the updating exercise happened immediately after the Accord was signed it would not have caused so much pain and distress, and the numbers involved would not have been so alarming. A country which takes 32 years to even start implementing an accord on a subject as sensitive as this is only asking for trouble on a gigantic scale. In a similar case involving the Chakmas ( who had emigrated in large numbers from the Chittagong Hill tracts and Mymensingh in Bangladesh to Arunachal Pradesh) the Supreme Court had ruled that they could not be deported or denied citizenship as they had been living here for decades. This was a recognition of the Jus Solis principle. Something similar needs to be applied here. The last thing this fractured country needs is an extension of this soulless and misbegotten policy on NRCs to other states. But the BJP has smelt blood, and will not call off the dogs of this new holy war. The cost will be paid by the nation for decades to come. That is, if we are still one nation then.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at

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1 Comment

  1. says: Avay Shukla

    Unfortunately, the Supreme Court itself is, in a way, driving this exercise by insisting on unrealistic deadlines for notifying the final list. That is why I said that it is playing into the BJP’s hands. It should realise that this is not just a legal issue but a political, social and humanitarian one too.It is now trying to back pedal by ordering that no coercive action should be taken on this list. But the damage has been done and it cannot shove the genie back into the bottle. Vigilantes and non state actors ( read mobs) have already become active and demands are growing for replicating the NRC in other states. When far more cohesive and better governed countries in Europe and the US have not been able to tackle the problem of immigration we are rushing in where angels fear to tread. And as you can see in my email thread on the subject, even educated, otherwise reasonable people cannot smell the coffee !

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