Perhaps taken aback by the vehemence of the protests across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have taken a few tactical steps back on his party’s contentious plan to take the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across India.
Modi saw it fit to reach out to Muslims, pointing out that nothing had happened so far on a national NRC. With Delhi elections approaching fast, Modi also asked Muslims rhetorically whether his government sought a pile of documents while granting benefits of his schemes to them or regularising unauthorised colonies in Delhi in which they live in large numbers.
His tone and tenor on Sunday were very different from that of his hardline home minister, Amit Shah, and suggest that the BJP will move carefully on its stated agenda, but move nevertheless, lest its core Hindu vote-bank get doubts about its intentions.
BJP general secretary Muralidhar Rao also said that NRC will not be brought without wide-ranging consultation from all stakeholders including the state governments. This is a significant repositioning as 16 of the states are not ruled by the BJP and most of them have already said no to NRC.
A number of NDA allies have revisited their position on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and NRC and there is a view in the BJP that the party needs to downplay the shrill NRC pitch made by Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP Working President J P Nadda. Mindful of the rich possibilities for polarisation that the NRC offers, the party had enshrined its position on the issue in its 2019 Lok Sabha poll manifesto: “There has been a change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.”
Modi’s outreach comes at a time when violent anti-CAA protests have taken grip in BJP-ruled states including key Hindi belt state Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, and Karnataka, its sole outpost in the south.
Modi sought to give a message that nothing has yet happened on NRC telling people to “first see whether something has happened on NRC. NRC has not come either before Parliament or before Cabinet.
Neither Rules have been framed. There has been no discussion anywhere on NRC.” He also described as lies the talk of sending Muslims to detentions centres.