The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued a notification stating that the National Population Register (NPR) exercise, which was supposed to start from April 1st 2020, is postponed until further notice due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that has resulted in an unprecedented nationwide lockdown. The first phase of Census 2021, ie, house listing & housing census, which was scheduled from April 2020 to September 2020, is also postponed. These exercises are expected to resume once the Coronavirus threat subsides and the lockdown is withdrawn. As Coronavirus transmission is now doubted to have reached a community transmission stage, it’s unlikely that normalcy will return to India anytime soon. Moreover, the mass migration of poor daily wage earners from the cities to their native villages, which has caused a nationwide humanitarian crisis, will also impact the successful completion of the Census 2021 and the NPR.
For months, the people of the country, mostly the aggrieved Muslim community and other marginalised people, supported by some progressive, democratic and anti-fascist political forces, have been waging a vigorous struggle against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NPR agenda, accusing it of being a prelude to a nationwide exercise of creating a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The postponement of the NPR exercise has provided a breathing space to those involved in the movement. Though many people are considering this temporary postponement as a victory of the anti-NPR and anti-NRC movements, they are missing the bigger picture that the COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath will make an NRC exercise more important than ever.
Delayed not cancelled
The NPR exercise is temporarily postponed in view of the nationwide lockdown until April 14th 2020, when normalcy is expected to return. In case there is no reduction in the spike of COVID-19 transmission and deaths, then the lockdown will continue and the NPR will remain postponed. However, under no circumstances, it should be considered as withdrawn or cancelled.
As a constitutionally-mandated process, the NPR is conducted as per the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (CAA, 2003), which was introduced by former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2003, and was enacted in December 2004, when the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance was in power. The CAA, 2003, mandates an NPR update in the rules of creating a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), which is a synonym of the NRC. The NRIC will be created as per the data collected through the NPR, which has been combined with the Census 2021 drive to make it look like a simple survey. However, the NPR will collect data that will help the NRIC or NRC authorities to map each individual digitally with their family’s legacy tree and thereby weed out those people who don’t possess enough documentary evidence to prove their family legacy in India or meets the criteria of Indian Citizenship under the Citizenship Act, 1955, and its 1987 and 2003 amendments.
Due to such constitutional validity of NPR as a rule of the NRIC creation, it’s evident that under no circumstances it will be cancelled or withdrawn by the present government until the time the CAA, 2003, exists. The CAA, 2003, validates not only the NPR and NRIC/NRC but also introduces the term “illegal immigrant” for the first time in Indian citizenship law. For the BJP’s Hindutva fascist politics, this law creates a potent playground. Despite all adversities, except for vigorous mass movements, the Hindutva fascist forces will implement the NPR after postponing it for the time being.
How mainstream political parties are fooling people about NPR?
The Indian Muslims have vehemently opposed Modi’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA, 2019), which grants refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who belong to six major non-Muslim religions of the region, the right to apply for Indian citizenship if they have come to India on or before December 31st 2014. The public outrage forced many non-BJP-ruled states to declare that they will not implement the CAA, 2019. State governments of Kerala and West Bengal informed that they won’t allow the NPR exercise to take place. Many other states took the resolution to update the NPR in the 2010 format, which was lauded by other mainstream parliamentary parties. Even the BJP supported such a motion in the Bihar legislative assembly.
Such declarations by these state governments are neither seriously going to affect the NRC update through NPR, nor protect the poor people from losing their citizenship rights. Such declarations are mere political rhetoric designed to bamboozle the common people, without any significance in real life. The NPR or the NRC are related to citizenship, which is a Union subject and the states can’t refuse to cooperate with the Union in implementing a constitutional process. The Union can take harsh steps to force the states to toe its line, which may even go to invoking Article 356 of the constitution that will impose a President’s Rule in the state by toppling the elected government.
The state government can only not arrest and detain those who are excluded in the NRC, as the law and order is a state subject. Still, the Union can have an upper-hand here as well, as it can cite law and order deterioration to invoke Article 356. By calling for an NPR to be done in the 2010 pattern is also political chicanery, which the Bihar and Delhi governments have proposed. The support of the BJP to such a proposition shows that the real essence of the NPR won’t be harmed as the NRC will be very well updated with the data that will be collected.
In a nutshell, neither declining to conduct an NPR by passing a resolution in the state legislature will relieve the state’s government of its constitutional duty, which mandates conducting the exercise, nor will following the 2010 model of questions help the people to save themselves from the state’s ire, as the presence of the Aadhaar database makes it impossible to evade the NRC linking through the NPR data.
The economic consequences of COVID-19
Globally there is a great concern among governments, corporate houses and politicians over the economic consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak. What will be the shape of the world economy when the catastrophe will end? How much will the global economy suffer? When all major economies will sink, who will rescue them? Such questions are deeply linked with the NPR and the NRC exercises.
Earlier there were talks about a looming financial crisis due to the Coronavirus outbreak in India, which has become an imminent and inevitable now in the wake of the spiralling global numbers and the lockdown. Recent United Nations findings suggest that the situation is quite problematic. The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 25 million people will be rendered jobless due to the Coronavirus outbreak, while the “world will lose $860 billion to $3.4 trillion” in labour income. The UN Conference on Trade and Development projected 30% to 40% downward pressure on global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows. This will severely impact India, which survives on FDI inflow for most industries.
Globally-recognised consultancy firm McKinsey estimates that the implications of the Coronavirus outbreak will be severe for businesses throughout the world. This will add to the ongoing crisis of low demand in economies like India, where jobs were already scarce and unemployment soared to its 45-year peak. There will be a steep fall in consumer demand due to loss of jobs and in the absence of adequate government spendings, there will be a major economic depression knocking the door.
For the corporate houses in India and for the foreign corporations whom Modi and his regime continuously woo to invest, there is a dire need for a dedicated pool of bargaining powerless working class that can work for a meagre subsistence. The disorganised daily wage earners, the unorganised workers, etc, can form a pool that can be used for creating assets and value in the days to come without the worry to pay them wages. The NRC, which is supposed to create a nationwide pool of 78m such stateless workers who will be forced to sell their labour at a cheaper price to survive, will eventually help the big corporates with the option of a dedicated, detained and desperate cheap labour pool.
As most corporate entities will be looking for cheap labour globally, Modi and his sycophants can seek more investments by luring international monopoly-finance capital with the NRC-driven stateless free labour pool. The Make in India project, which Modi undertook in 2014 to project the country as a manufacturing destination for global monopoly-finance capital and beat China in the race, will get a rejig due to the global crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The NRC project and the subsequent disenfranchisement of millions of poor people will play a crucial role in it.
Not just the NRC will create a pool of stateless workers who will sell their labour for cheap, at the lowest wage that can help them survive with their families, but them selling their labour at a cheap rate will eventually force those who have featured in the NRC to sell their labour for cheap as well. This will lead to a double bonanza for the big corporations, while at the same time, this will instigate fratricidal violence and state-sponsored limited pogroms in different areas of India, as the antagonism between non-citizen and citizen labour will intensify. As many of the workers will lose their jobs and experience a wage-cut, they will turn against the citizenship-less poor labourers, who will be blamed for the drastic reduction in real wages. These workers will be in a susceptible state and can be soft targets of xenophobic rage. Such fratricides will further help the Modi regime and its corporate donors to enrich themselves with the spoils of the war.
What is to be done?
What’s important now is to understand the gravity of the situation and prepare to resist the forthcoming NPR exercise. It’s important to inform the poor people, even during the lockdown, that they will be exclusively suffering the brunt of the draconian NRC, irrespective of their religion.
One must abhor and reject the liberal-democrat idea of hoodwinking the Census 2021 and NPR workers with false information. Such an act will make it easy for the government to exclude people from the NRC. There is no alternative to boycotting the NPR and even a 2010 format will become lethal for the poor and the marginalised people.
The Modi regime has brought the CAA, 2019, as a subterfuge to discombobulate the 86% non-Muslims by making them believe that they will be saved from an NRC exclusion through this law, which will only help a minuscule fraction of the self-declared refugees, which the MHA pegged at 31,313, to apply for Indian citizenship.
The myth around the CAA, 2019, which is used to lure away the non-Muslim poor, especially dalits, tribal people, the Sikh community, etc, must be busted. The warning regarding an imminent NPR must percolate through different layers of the vulnerable socio-economic groups and there must be a clear political objective in uniting them and building a strong resistance against the NPR drive.
To stop the NPR, the mass movements that are demolished by the Modi regime and its associate state governments under the guise of fighting Coronavirus outbreak, especially in Shaheen Bagh of Delhi, Roshan Bagh of Allahabad, Clock Tower of Lucknow, Idgah of Aligarh, Mumbra of Mumbai, Park Circus and Zakaria Street of Kolkata, etc, must be rebuild. The people must be mobilised to hit the streets and carry forward the movements from the pre-lockdown stage to intensify the resistance against NPR at the grassroots level. Only then they can spoil the obnoxious agenda of the Modi regime to sell their labour, blood and sweat to big foreign monopoly-finance capital and their Indian crony-comprador capitalist lackeys.