Amit Shah battles citizenship flames
An unusually mellow Amit Shah appeared on television on Tuesday to firmly deny any link between the National Population Register (NPR) exercise and the proposed contentious National Register of Citizens.
But he did not rule out the rollout of a nationwide NRC promised by him on several occasions.
Uncharacteristically, Shah conceded the possibility of “shortcomings” in dealing with the nationwide protests linked to citizenship and said the government was neither arrogant nor driven by ego.
Interviewed by the news agency ANI, two days after Narendra Modi had said there had been no discussions on “the word NRC”, Shah endorsed the Prime Minister’s statement.
Shah said the NPR process was aimed at collecting data for government schemes meant for the welfare of “poor and the minorities” and accused the Opposition of depriving the poor by opposing it.
“Dono me moolbhoot antar hai (There is a fundamental difference between the two — the NPR and the NRC),” the home minister said.
He added: “The NPR is a population register…, based on which the shape of different schemes is prepared. And in the NRC, proof is asked from every individual to show on what basis you are a citizen of the country. There is no link between the two, neither can the methodology of one survey be used in the other. The NPR process that will start now can never be used for the NRC. The law for the two is also different….
“Let me clarify more; this NPR process was not started by the BJP government. In 2004, the UPA government made a law and in 2010 when census was done it was done along with it…. Any data of the NPR can’t be used since it’s a different exercise.”
However, his ministry’s annual report for 2017-18 states that the NPR was started under rules notified in 2003. A BJP government was in power in 2003.
The ministry’s annual report for 2018-19 states that the “National Population Register (NPR) is the first step towards the creation of the National Register of Indian Citizens….”
On the Prime Minister’s claim that there had been no discussions on “the word NRC”, Shah said Modi was right and sought to avoid replying in detail on the issue. “There is no need to debate this (the nationwide NRC) as there is no discussion on it right now. PM Modi was right, there is no discussion on it yet either in the cabinet or in Parliament,” Shah said.
At the same time, Shah did not rule out that the Modi government would not go ahead with the nationwide NRC exercise in the future after the protests subside. “My party’s manifesto is in place and when it happens, will it be done deceptively?” he asked, suggesting the NRC remains on the agenda of the government.
While not ruling out a nationwide NRC, Shah urged the Opposition parties not to oppose the NPR process and sought to reassure “Muslim bhai bahno” that the population register announced by the government on Tuesday had nothing to do with the NRC.
Asked about the governments in Bengal and Kerala refusing to undertake the NPR exercise in their states, Shah appealed to the two chief ministers not to politicise the issue. “I want to tell the chief ministers of Bengal and Kerala not to oppose the NPR. This is meant for the welfare of the poor. Don’t let politics deprive the poor of the government’s welfare schemes,” Shah said.
Asked about the widespread protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed NRC, Shah appeared on the defensive. He acknowledged that there may have been some shortcomings on his and the government’s part in not trying to calm tempers.
But he accused the Opposition of spreading fear among the people, quickly adding that the people had now understood that the CAA had nothing to do with citizenship of Indians and that now there was peace in the country.
“Kuch to khami rahi hogi (There may have been some shortcomings),” Shah said. “I have no problem in accepting this. But in my speech in Parliament, I had clearly said that one’s citizenship is not endangered by the CAA.”
Shah said he was only using the interview to reach out to the people and remove the fear in their minds over the NPR and the CAA. “I want to humbly appeal to the people of the country that the NPR has absolutely no relation to the NRC,” Shah said.
“The NPR is neither in our manifesto nor on our agenda…. There is no question of arrogance… that we don’t want to be seen climbing down…. This (NPR) is already late… so there is no question of arrogance or ego… that let protests happen but we’ll pursue our thing. This is not our agenda,” Shah said.
On people getting killed during the protests, Shah acknowledged that “such incidents could have been avoided”. At the same time he added that sometimes police have to resort to stern measures to maintain law and order. “The police fire only when their lives come under threat but, yes, such incidents could have been avoided,” the home minister said.