New Delhi: Union home minister Amit Shah’s call for a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) may have found support among some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, but triggered concerns among experts.
Shah’s comments are in line with the BJP’s election manifesto, and come amid demands for a pan-India NRC by party leaders from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Tripura.
However, experts have red-flagged several concerns. The NRC process, which ended in Assam on 31 August, has already left 1.9 million “disenfranchized" people, who will now have to appear before foreigners tribunals to avoid being declared stateless.
“There are several concerns here. This could just be political rhetoric, because the BJP is now testing its philosophy to see how far they can proceed. Second, if this is actually imposed, how will they take care of millions of stateless people," said Subrata Mukherjee, former professor of political science, University of Delhi.
“The exercise, somewhat makes sense in Assam because in 1971 around 10 million people crossed over from Bangladesh to India and that caught the attention of authorities," " he added.
Following the NRC in Assam, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari, and Haryana and Uttar Pradesh chief ministers M.L Khattar and Yogi Adityanath, respectively, demanded that the exercise be carried out in their states. BJP member of Parliament Tejaswi Surya has also demanded that the NRC be carried out in Karnataka.
“It’s going to create a lot of confusion. How do people prove that they belong here? And, there is a danger that it could lead to regionalism in practice. The problem of foreigners isn’t big enough to cause this sort of internal strife. In Karnataka there are Tibetan Buddhists who have settled down in Bylakuppe. It was given to them. But now to look at who belongs there and who doesn’t is an exercise that will cause a lot of social strain," said Narendar Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru.
However, Shah faces a challenge in West Bengal, where chief minister Mamata Banerjee has opposed the introduction of NRC. During a meeting with Shah on Thursday, she said she had flagged several irregularities in that exercise in Assam to the home minister, adding that the exercise was not needed in her state.
“The BJP has made several ideological claims and they are capable of carrying out a country-wide NRC regardless of the consequences even though it is a very far-fetched idea. They may not implement it just now, but it is a possibility in the next four-five years. Once they resolve the teething problems it has caused in the North-East, they will start implementing it elsewhere," said Abhay Kumar Dubey of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
He said Delhi was likely to be affected as well, “because there are many clusters of people here without any evidence of citizenship".