The biggest challenge the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will be facing in the coming year will be the successful completion of the National Population Register (NPR) exercise, amid indications that it will not have a smooth run leading to obstacles for the Census 2021.
For the MHA, another issue that will be keeping it busy will be Jammu and Kashmir, where it will have to spend more time in ensuring the return of normalcy as the region faced a lock-down for the past five months following the removal of special status to the state and its splitting into two Union Territories.
As the protests against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 coupled with the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) stumped the government, the ruling BJP leaders say they never expected such a widespread agitation that gained the support of various sections of the society.
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Home Minister Amit Shah say there have been no discussions on an NRC in the past five years, but the Opposition parties or those on the streets, including students and activists, are not willing to buy this.
With the Union Cabinet clearing the NPR, it is to be seen how the Opposition-led governments in states take it, amid arguments that NPR is the “first step” towards NRC. At least two state governments – the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal and CPI(M)-led Kerala – have already stopped the NPR exercise, which runs along the house-listing process for the Census.
If more states join the bandwagon, it is likely to have an impact on the Census operations as the house listing exercise, which goes along with the NPR, beginning February will land up in trouble. Also, there exist the possibilities of a section of people themselves refusing to be part of the exercise as part of the protest and even leading to law and order situation.
While the government has made it clear that NPR is not linked with NRC, official documents and the 2003 rules regarding NRC clearly points out to its linkage. One option before the government could be to bring amendments to the rules.
Along with the NPR and Census exercise, one of the issues that would have MHA’s attention would be Kashmir where normalcy is yet to be restored. The government has been insisting that restrictions are being lifted gradually but Opposition is not willing to buy this.
All eyes will be on the release of political detainees like former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti among others. While the government has not given a timeline for their release, the MHA will have to soon weigh in the question about their release.
A call will also have to be taken on lifting the restrictions on internet communication even as land-line and mobile connectivity have been restored.
The MHA will also keep itself busy in 2020 with the Ayodhya temple issue, as a trust, mandated by the Supreme Court, will have to be formed. One of the challenges will be finding five acres of land for the Muslim side to build a mosque in Ayodhya to their satisfaction.
The MHA will have to tread a cautious path in not ruffling the feathers that could lead to further trouble.