Aadhaar levelling up into a Trojan horse for NRC?

Making Aadhaar compulsory for registration of births and deaths, as the newly tabled bill requires, will reopen and vitiate the citizenship debate again. Perfectly timed for another distraction?

People protesting against CAA and NRC inside Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Tuesday, 14 January 2020
People protesting against CAA and NRC inside Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Aakar Patel

The Union government is passing legislation to make Aadhaar compulsory for births and deaths. If the bill should become law, it will feed into the National Population Register. This in turn will revive the National Register of Citizens. The last time the government attempted this, it was pushed back by the CAA protests in 2019–20. 

The linking of Aadhaar to births and deaths will revive the debate around citizenship.
Pronab Sen, statistician

In April 2020, the government was to begin the NPR exercise manually. This would have needed the enumerators—meaning government workers, teachers, clerical staff, and so on—to go door-to-door and question people in 25 crore households. This attempt was given up after the protests did not end. They did not end because the prime minister gave no assurance that the NRC would not be implemented.

He said merely that it had not been discussed yet. This was insufficient to satisfy people who believe that what happened in Assam would happen nationwide. Meaning that people would be marked as doubtful citizens, lose their voting rights and begin a process that goes through a National Register of Citizens list, then a Foreigner Tribunal and ends in a detention centre.

Other than the protests, what stopped the previous NPR/NRC exercise was opposition from non-BJP parties.

Some states have said that they will not implement the NPR.

Kerala informed the Centre it feared law and order problems. The state has also challenged the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in the Supreme Court.

Madhya Pradesh, when it was under the Indian National Congress said it would not implement it either.

Other states like West Bengal encouraged their citizens to actively resist the enumerator and not show them any documents. Yet other states said they would implement the NPR only partially (Odisha and Bihar), leaving out questions. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said that he would not allow Rajasthanis to be jailed on this issue and instead would go to jail himself first.

At the federal level, then, it became clear that the incoming data would be incomplete and fragmented. That would be a third reason for the Modi government to have stalled the NPR/NRC process in 2020. 

But certainly it appears that the main reason was the issue of physically getting the data.

As a result of all this and more, in large parts of India there was information on and popular mobilisation against the NPR and the CAA. Tamil Nadu alone saw mass protests in Chennai, Tirunelveli, Vellore, Coimbatore, Thoothukudi, Tiruchi, Madurai, Salem and Krishnagiri on a single day. These were protests that in many cities required the deployment of the entire police force to manage. This is unsustainable in a country the size of India.

The National Sample Survey (NSS) which was to collect material on the census and consumption was also affected by the CAA protests. For this reason, the census and the quinquennial (five-yearly) surveys have both been postponed indefinitely.

The former chief statistician of India Pronab Sen had said then that this was a new sort of problem. He said “attacks on field investigators of the NSS is not new. It has happened before, essentially when they asked questions on either household incomes or household assets… so, this has happened earlier, but not too often, because over time people got fairly comfortable knowing that NSS surveys happen”.

This has now changed. In fact he added that we "may well have a situation where you are unable to do the Census properly and if the Census is not done properly, then for the next 10 years, no household survey would be reliable because all household surveys rely on the Census as the frame. If this (Census) runs into problems, and there’s a danger that it might, then for the next 11 years, you are in trouble".

"The linking of Aadhaar to births and deaths will revive the debate around citizenship. This is unfortunate. We have not considered the fact that powerful voices around the world, including the United Nations Secretary General, elements within the European Union and the United States Congress, were concerned and vocal about what was  happening in India in 2020."

It doesn’t make sense for the government to push through with the NPR exercise in these circumstances, through whatever method. One hopes that all this has been taken into consideration as we again march ourselves towards a controversy over citizenship. 

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