With NPR decision, govt stoking fear

The Union cabinet’s decision to update the National Population Register (NPR) can only be taken as a step towards creating a National Register of Citizens (NRC), which has led to large-scale protests across the country. However assiduously the government may have claimed that there is no linkage between the NPR and the NRC, it is a given that the NPR facilitates the NRC and is a requirement for it. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar have denied any connection between the two, claiming that the government is only implementing the UPA government’s 2010 decision. Shah has also said that the NPR and the NRC are governed by different laws and have different aims. The government has said that the NPR is being updated for better delivery of social benefits. But the clarifications and the defence are not convincing and, as in the case of the NRC, they will be taken as disingenuous statements which hide more than reveal the intentions of the government.  

The NPR will record the essential personal details like name, age and nationality of all ‘usual residents’ of the country, who are defined as people who have lived in the country for the six months prior and or may live here for the next six months. It will also seek the details of identity records and the place and date of birth of parents, which essentially gives away the government’s real intention. Moreover, though the ministers have denied any connection between the NPR and the NRC, the government has confirmed such a link in the past. The then minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju told Parliament a number of times in 2014 that the “NPR is the first step towards creating National Register of Indian Citizens.’’ The government has reiterated this many times and the rules framed in 2003 support this. 

In the background of these affirmations and the known policies of the BJP and the government on the matter, the denials will not be taken at face value. The push for the NPR will only strengthen the apprehensions and increase the concerns over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the NRC threat. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Minister has ruled out conducting the NRC exercise in the future. So, the NPR will not be taken as an innocent move for the facilitation of welfare benefits, especially because the government’s denials and even the Prime Minister’s statements, on related matters have turned out to be wrong. Some states have already stayed all preparations for updating the NPR. It is unfortunate that the government, instead of assuaging the fears and anxieties of the people, is stoking them further. 

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