Blog: Questions I would like to put to Honorable Amit Shah on CAA & NRC

Since Amit Shah, like the Prime Minister, does not take questions in press conferences, I would like to ask him who were granted citizenship by this Govt in last three years, besides other questions

Blog: Questions I would like to put to Honorable Amit Shah on CAA & NRC

Uttam Sengupta

Even after reading reams of reports on the amended citizenship law, a riddle continues to fox me.

Why did the Modi Government need an amendment to grant citizenship?

Didn’t the Government inform Parliament last week that it had granted citizenship to some three thousand people in the last three and a half years?

Who were they? Surely, they were not Europeans, Americans or Africans?

So, if the GOI could confer citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955 to whoever they found suitable, why did it need the amendment, unless this was meant to reassure the Hindus left out of the NRC in Assam? Or because it figured in the BJP manifesto?

After all, the Government of India, like all other governments, has always been empowered to grant or refuse requests for citizenship. Nobody doubts the sovereign right of the governments to grant citizenship once requirements are fulfilled.

The question is, did the Citizenship Act of 1955, or any other law for that matter, prevent the Modi Government from granting citizenship to ‘persecuted’ minorities from the three neighbouring countries?

When India has allowed millions of Nepalis and Tibetans to live and work in India for so many years, and grant citizenship to some of them, there is no reason why it couldn’t have granted citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs and Jains etc. under the existing law.

Clearly, the amendment is a dog whistle. The messaging is that now Taslima Nasreen, the persecuted Bangladeshi writer, will not be granted citizenship of India even if she applied for it but if Bangladeshi cricketer Lytton Das so desires, he and his family members could become Indian citizens because they happen to be Hindus.

Whether this is reasonable and in keeping with international law and principles, and whether this is in conformity with the Indian Constitution will be tested in court. But plain common sense, which admittedly is not so common, would suggest that the amendment is unlikely to pass judicial scrutiny.

Laws are meant to be applicable to everyone equally. By keeping neighbouring countries other than Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan out of the ambit of Indian citizenship, and specifying a few select religious affiliations as conditions for granting citizenship, the law is likely to fall foul of international scrutiny.

But the Government of India and the BJP seem to suggest correctly that states, even opposition ruled states, can do nothing to stall the implementation of the amended citizenship law. States do not confer citizenship. The Centre does. So, when Mamata Banerjee declares that she would allow the Citizenship Act over her dead body, she makes little sense.

But implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) cannot be carried out without the active cooperation of the state governments. And if the 16 opposition ruled states decide to oppose the implementation of the NRC, there is no way the Centre can implement it.

Again, nobody can object to the need of such a data base. Governments are required to know who its citizens are. But when a simple exercise is complicated by the State by inserting cut-off dates for everyone and make it mandatory for everyone to produce not just their own but their parents’ and grandparents’ birth certificates, the intent immediately becomes suspect.

Such an exercise can be misused for hounding selectively some sections of the population. Those Hindus who support the ruling party can well be spared even if they fail to produce the required certificates. But those who oppose the ruling party and fail to produce those very certificates, can well be hounded.

A large number of Indians may have lived and worked at the same place, in the same state or the same city for much of their lives. They may have been educated there, worked there and in all probability continued to have a home they would return to even if they went out of the state for many years.

For these Indians, it might be relatively easy to access documents from the panchayats, municipalities and other offices.

But refugees and the poor have never had the luxury of staying at the same place for too long. They would migrate from one place to another, find jobs, lose them at some point and move on.

My parents, refugees in 1947 from the then East Pakistan, moved from Calcutta to Madhupur near Deoghar, then to Giridih before settling in Ranchi, where one of them got a job. As for me, I have worked in six cities, switched jobs eight times and have moved house ten times or more.

I don’t have my birth certificate. Nor do I have the birth certificates of my parents or grandparents, all of whom were born in undivided India in places which are in Bangladesh now. Millions of Indians will have difficulty obtaining these certificates and may spend a minor fortune in an effort to obtain them.

What’s more, as several commentators have pointed out already, the Government has been terribly inefficient in record keeping. The Government needs to first set its own house in order, correct the mistakes it has made in recording details of land ownership, births, deaths and names.

Going after non-citizens, the Government will find, is easier and more productive than forcing the entire population to a wild goose chase. As the former IIT, Delhi Professor V.K. Tripathi put it so pithily, in order to catch a thief the Government cannot ask the entire population to prove they are not thieves.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines