As a sovereign state, India has every right to guard itself against the menace of illegal immigration. The government must push for a nation-wide NRC.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019 became an act over two weeks ago, and there have been violent protests in some parts of the country, including the national capital.
Although the intensity of protests has come down in recent days, some supporters of the amendment genuinely fear that the violence and rioting that followed the passing of the bill has forced the government to junk the idea of a nationwide NRC in the near future.
Although the government has assured India’s largest minority community that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is not a ploy to disfranchise its members, the idea of an NRC appears to be suicidal, and discarding it appears to be the next move for the government.
And that is the very reason NRC must happen.
One, if the government gives up on the NRC exercise, that would be the end of the road for Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Population Control Bill as well.
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah cannot convince the electorate to prove its citizenship for an exercise routine in many countries, how do they expect to get people to accept UCC or convince them to plan smaller families?
Two, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future. Finding the government, one with this strong a mandate, helpless on the issue of illegal immigration, more people will be encouraged to sneak into India. Even if (a big if) the government manages to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the end of NRC would ‘normalise’ the illegal immigrants who are already here.
Three, as evident by now, most protests against the CAA were misguided by people with vested interests and a lack of understanding of the CAA.
Thus, to stop NRC in the wake of these misinformed protests could mean an end to any major reforms. Instead of having debates in Parliament, opposition parties would count on student backlash, rumoured responses, and violent protests to dictate policy-making, without any mandate.
Therefore, the NRC is important, not only to tag the illegal immigrants that roam freely in this country, but also to signal that the government can’t be pushed around.
The reasons being given not to have the NRC are absurd and must be countered with facts.
One, there’s nothing undemocratic about NRC or deportation of the illegal immigrants identified during the exercise. Those identified will have the chance to go to court and prove their identity to an impartial judge.
Democracies across the world routinely arrest and deport illegal immigrants. In 2019 alone, the United States arrested more than 140,000 illegal immigrants and more than 85,000 of them were deported, a few even to India.
Germany deported more than 24,000 people in 2018. Canada deported around 9,000 in 2018-19. Other democracies, such as Australia and Italy, have also deported thousands.
India, on the other hand, does not have any significant number to show on the deportation of illegal immigrants.
Two, the number of illegal immigrants relative to the population of the country must not be used as an excuse against NRC. Two million illegal immigrants were identified in Assam alone, and the number will grow if and when a nationwide NRC is conducted.
Three, this has nothing to do with the government oppressing the Muslims. The argument that it is an anti-Muslim legislation has been debunked convincingly.
Many Muslim countries, like Turkey, have housed illegal immigrants and refugees from Syria in camps instead of integrating them. Under a deal struck between the US and Turkey this year, the latter was awarded an area sufficient to create a buffer zone on the Syria-Turkey border for more than 3 million Syrian refugees.
If Muslim-majority nations are not choosing to integrate Muslim refugees, why must India be made to feel obligated?
Four, for the state to plan better policies on refugees and illegal immigrants, it must know their number and location. As big data and analytics take over governance in the 2020s, it’s important that policy-makers know these details.
Lastly, the civilisational filter. Only seven decades ago, the subcontinent was partitioned to accommodate the demands of the Muslim community.
While there can be many perspectives and philosophies to justify the Partition or blame some for it, the crude truth remains that the Partition of the Indian subcontinent happened on religious lines.
While Muslims who remained in India thrived in a Hindu-majority country, minorities in Pakistan had to live in fear and with limited access to power and resources. For instance, forced conversion of Hindu, Sikh and Christian girls often makes headlines.
Therefore, the onus does fall on a Hindu-majority India to safeguard the interests of these minorities.
However, if the CAA is extended to Muslims, it does render the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh pointless to an extent while absolving both these nations of the atrocities they have committed against the minorities.
Thus, the government must not give up on NRC. India cannot be held responsible for the choices made by illegal immigrants coming from Bangladesh.
As a sovereign state, India has every right to guard itself against the menace of illegal immigration, as the US has it, and as countries in Europe have it.
More than deportation, it is the counting of illegal immigrants that matters. Even the willing opposition parties must be taken into confidence, given the likes of Mamata Banerjee and the Congress party were in favour of the NRC not so long ago.