'NRC on national scale could be a disaster'

Journalist Rohini Mohan and historian Ramachandra Guha talk about the National Register of Citizens during a discussion in Bengaluru on Monday. DH Photo

The nationwide implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) proposed by the BJP-led Centre will be plagued by the same set of problems which have affected the programme in Assam, experts cautioned.

It could mean the wholesale disenfranchisement of people with a legal right to be counted as citizens of this country as is seen in Assam, an ambiguous, erratic system of determining who is an alien and little succour in the courts, which is made worse by corruption among lawyers and a programme which appears not clearly thought out by policymakers, explained freelance journalist Rohini Mohan who has done extensive reporting on the NRC.

Speaking at a discussion of her extensive reportage titled ‘Prove Your Grandfather is Indian’ in Bengaluru on Monday, Rohini added that several states, including Karnataka, have shown their willingness to jump on the “fertile ground” of anti-immigrant sentiment for various reasons.

Karnataka, for one, is following up on NRC’s central directive to build a detention centre to house illegal immigrants. Rohini, joined by historian Ramachandra Guha, considered the implications of this.

“People have to ask themselves what society will gain by targeting those perceived to be outsiders. In Karnataka, after the programme has run its course against Bangladeshi migrants, the focus could next turn on Africans and someone else after that. Society has to ask itself what it hopes to achieve by reporting on people,” she said. 

Nevertheless, considering the lack of a concrete method of implementation, Rohini said the Modi regime’s anti-immigrant rhetoric appears to be more about intimidation than action.

Guha said there was a disturbing parallel between what is happening in Assam to the emergence of civil war in Sri Lanka. “The most important cause of the Sri Lankan civil war was a paranoid nationalism, which defined citizenship on the basis of language and religion and which is where we may be headed towards. We could even see Assam as the ‘cat’s paw’, the front edge of that kind of nationalism,” he said.

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