NEW DELHI : Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday set a deadline for the implementation of a countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC) by stating that the exercise will be rolled out before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Shah pulled no punches when he said the exercise will wean out “all illegal infiltrators from India", a stance that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has maintained since it came to power for the second time this year, despite the Opposition putting up stiff resistance to the move.

Shah’s remarks came during a public address in Jharkhand while campaigning for the ongoing assembly elections in the state.

The BJP leader turned up the heat further by taking a dig at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. “Why is Rahul Gandhi questioning the NRC and why we are throwing out infiltrators? No illegal person should be allowed to unfairly use resources of the country meant for Indians," he said. “We will selectively throw out all infiltrators and this task will be undertaken by the BJP before 2024."

Union defence minister Rajnath Singh echoed Shah at another election rally in Bokaro. “We will implement the NRC across all states of the country. Every Indian has a right to know who the illegal immigrants in their land are. Some parties accuse us of being communal," he said.

The Opposition has been flagging concerns of legitimate citizens being left out of the NRC list with around 1.9 million people being left out in Assam where the NRC exercise was concluded on 31 August.

The Opposition also alleged that the exercise, as well as the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, was discriminatory along religious lines.

Shah, however, denied the allegation. “Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Christian and Parsi refugees should get citizenship, and that is why the citizenship amendment bill is needed so that these refugees who are being discriminated against on the basis of religion in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, get Indian citizenship," he said in the Rajya Sabha earlier in the winter session of Parliament. “All citizens of India irrespective of religion will figure in the NRC list. The NRC is different from the citizenship amendment bill," he said.

At a public address in October, Shah had said that the BJP government will wean out all “illegal infiltrators".

The ruling BJP has been firm on implementing the NRC and has been looking to roll out the process in West Bengal amid stiff protest by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

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