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Arousing Partition-like passions, setting stage for 'collision' between state and citizens

By Shantanu Basu*
In 2010, I recall the NPR enumerator, a middle school teacher, visiting our Delhi home. He carried two sets of forms - one for Census, the other for National Population Register (NPR). My Dad and I helped the man to fill in both forms, including for the domestic helps. No documents were sought nor any information on place of birth of parents, etc. was asked. We obliged the enumerator with all the info.
Since then most government services like passports, EPIC, Aadhaar, I-T returns, DBT, etc. have been digitised. The Government of India (GOI) now has unprecedented amount of data available with it. Then where is the need to seek so much info again? If there are data gaps, those can be collected by Census enumerators, unobtrusively.
Anti-Nation Register for Citizens (NRC) protests understandably have struck a raw chord among many that never worked for governments (CAA exempts them) but today must not only produce proof of their parents' (many deceased too) places of birth but also establish legal documentary proof of their relationship to the head of a family.
This, in effect, means birth/death/marriage/divorce certificates, ownership of immovable property documents (thousands held for decades together within families and repeatedly subdivided subsequently), and myriad more.
How many households in India would be able to provide these documents? Even if they did, how would verification be carried out, say for documents dating back to 1960 and before. For instance, registration of births were a rarity in the 1950s and 1960s, even until the 1970s.
Not just that; immovable property records maintained by civic agencies are still manual at least till 2000 AD. In rural areas, the problem is far more acute, compounded by illiteracy. And these info are neither religion-centric nor susceptible of online submission and verification.
Principally there is nothing wrong with creating an NPR. However, such exercise must not transfer the onus of proving loyalty to the state on citizens, rather supplement, voluntarily by citizens, data already available with GOI.
Coercion will be counterproductive, results uncertain and reactions volatile. Assam's NRC showed the debacle on its first show. If fake EPICs, PAN, etc. show up on a random sample, they could be checked using hand-held computers carried by enumerators (that presupposes that the database has sound integrity).
If GOI is honest about its intent, citizens have no reason to be apprehensive. But when it starts asking for places of birth of parents in a nation that has seen the largest mass migration in recorded history involving 14.50 million people in 1947-51 alone, GOI is opening a Pandora's box.
For citizens this is the first sign of trouble; after all, no one fancies statelessness. Again, when the GOI does not deny media reports that even passports would not be recognized for determining citizenship, that fuels greater apprehension and primes future protest. Wounds of Partition have been handed over from the 1947 refugees to subsequent generations. Where was the need to arouse Partition-like passions?
When GOI does not deny that a passport is not valid proof of citizenship, it is not only brazenly defying Parliamentary legislation but also making a statement that citizenship for all Indians is discretion than right, a totalitarian concept alien to our democratic tradition.
For now, NPR seems headed for a DeMo-like end that will again make India the laughing stock of the world
Likewise,when GOI's notified enumerators' manual clearly gives the checklist and supporting documents required for collection, its setting the stage for a collision between the state and its citizens.
Today Muslims are spearheading the anti-NRC agitation. Tomorrow when the true intent of NRC dawns, Hindus from Pakistan & Bangladesh, Sikhs from Afghanistan and Pakistan and, Tamils from Sri Lanka, all of whom made their homes in India, but whose parents (or themselves) were born in their respective nation of origin, will invariably join the mass movement. A leaderless mass movement can plunge a nation into anarchy as it can bring a new political star on the dark horizon.
How many bogus affidavits and money will change hands in this exercise is beyond any divine calculation too. Already the ex-Assam NCR coordinator is under a Rs 1,600 crore cloud.
GOI needs to tread with the utmost circumspection on NPR, instead of its present cavalier, indeed combative, manner. Our borders have major geographical aberrations but technology can ensure their relatively higher integrity as will a massive anti-corruption drive in those agencies that are involved in patrolling the international border and border fencing. No NPR can substitute for integrity of our international borders. Nor can NPR substitute for good governance.
For now, NPR seems headed for a DeMo-like end that will again make India the laughing stock of the world.
---
Formerly with the Indian Audit and Accounts Service, Ministry of Finance, Government of India. Source: Facebook timeline 

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