Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government postponed the controversial National Population Register (NPR) exercise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be infantile to think that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will desist from implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) agenda — that aims to disenfranchise a large number of Indian poor by labelling them “illegal immigrants” — at this point. The rollout of the NPR and NRC in post-lockdown phase is inevitable. Even though there had been nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019), there was no clear idea among its organisers regarding the NPR and NRC programmes.
During the nationwide lockdown, which started from midnight of March 25th, India experienced an unprecedented humanitarian crisis as millions of unorganised workers, fearing imminent starvation death in the cities they lived and worked in, decided to march towards their native villages, often covering hundreds of miles on foot. Even when the government denied them access to public transport, food, water and unleashed macabre atrocities, these workers, who are called “migrant” by the mainstream press, refused to capitulate and continued walking. This “migrant” workers’ exodus has created a vacuum in the labour market and big corporates now face a dearth of skilled and unskilled labour, which is hampering their production.
As the Modi regime is now promoting an unscientific and reckless “unlock” exercise to help corporates profiteer, while spiking the number of COVID-19 infection in all major cities of the country, the capitalists are desperate to have the workers back in the labour market. There have been severe wage cuts across industries, as big capitalists have imposed the burden of their losses on the working class and the general public’s shoulders to ensure their earnings are saved from erosion. Many workers, who have left big cities for their villages, are reluctant to return anytime soon.
In this scenario, NPR and NRC in post-lockdown phase will help the Modi regime as it can strip millions of their citizenship rights and, thereby, throw them in an abysmal survival crisis, which will force them to sell their labour at a cheaper rate. If a large number of disenfranchised workers sell their labour at a cheaper rate, then it will also force those who have their citizenship intact to sell their labour at a similar price to stay competitive in the market. This will eventually bring down labour cost for corporates in the long run and help them extract more profit from the sweat and blood of the working class. It will also trigger antagonism between “citizen” and “non-citizen” labourers, sparking flames of fratricides at places.
While the majority of those who earlier opposed the NPR and NRC did so using a Muslim lens and saw the NRC as a Hindutva fascist exercise, by a zealot Modi and his BJP, targeting the minority community in order to disenfranchise it, their myopic political vision prohibited them from fathoming how bigger the conspiracy is and how it’s independent of the political affiliation of the ruling party. The CAA 2019 neither made the NRC compulsory nor threatens to snatch anyone’s citizenship. It merely promises to provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three countries and the number of them won’t be more than 31,313. This is a reason that the CAA 2019’s rules — the executive’s route to implementing a law — aren’t declared yet, and it looks like they won’t be publicised until the 2021 assembly elections in Assam and West Bengal are over.
Actually, it’s the CAA of 2003, introduced by the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, which became law during the Congress party’s rule in December 2004, that inserted the notorious section 14(A) to the Citizenship Act, which makes it mandatory for any political party in power, to prepare a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). Irrespective of whether the BJP or the Congress party is in power, conducting the NPR and NRC in post-lockdown phase is mandatory from a constitutional point of view. Neither can any state refuse to abide by the Union’s directive in this matter nor can the Union government itself refuse or stall the implementation of the NRIC in the long run, unless the CAA 2003 is abrogated.
The Modi regime pushed the CAA 2019 and publicised it since years, often overlooking the massive protests in northeastern parts because it helped to hoodwink the majority Hindu community. The majority of Indian poor are from the ostracised dalit or tribal people, who are labelled as Hindus, and many are from the other backward classes (OBCs) of the Hindu community.
To ensure that the dalits, tribals and OBCs don’t oppose the NRC exercise and participate in the NPR drive, the BJP has projected the CAA 2019 as a pro-Hindu law, while in reality it only caters to 31,313 refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The dangling of a citizenship bait before the poor, most of whom have no relevant papers to prove their legacy, helps the BJP to neutralise these people and project the NRC as a Muslim issue and the anti-CAA movements as anti-Hindu movements by Muslims, which, in both cases, help the Hindutva fascist block in polarising the majority community.
According to section 14(A) of the CAA 2003, the NRIC will neither distinguish on the basis of religion nor will it spare anyone. But as the CAA 2019 will only provide citizenship to the non-Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who came to India before 2015, it’s unlikely that the vast majority of non-Muslim poor, who will lose their citizenship due to the NPR and NRC in post-lockdown phase, will be able to avail any benefit from the controversial law. The disenfranchisement will affect the poor mostly, as they can’t easily bribe the top officials unlike the elites and urban middle classes. The majority of the poor will fail to produce papers to prove their legacy in India since 1948, as the majority of them lack birth certificates, which will push them to a reign of uncertainty.
After the Amphan super-cyclone wreaked havoc in South Bengal districts like North and South 24 Parganas, Purba Medinipur, Howrah, Hooghly, etc, on May 20th, washing away thousands of houses, forcing the victims to live in makeshift relief camps, it’s evident that these hapless people can’t prove their citizenship through legacy records in case an NRIC exercise is carried out by the Union government. Millions will be quarantined following the experiences that the state garnered during the lockdown exercise, and the majority of them will be the voiceless poor, who will lose their identity in the fiasco. The majority of them will be the Hindus, who are 70% of West Bengal’s population. None of them can reapply for citizenship under the CAA 2019 as they can’t prove their antecedents in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. This will trap them in an unending ordeal and allow the corporate houses to benefit from their agony.
Rolling out the NPR and NRC in post-lockdown phase is a dire necessity for the Modi regime to ensure smooth supply of cheap labour to the corporate houses, especially after it has opened up the coal and mineral mining sections to private capital. In the long run, when the BJP’s big corporate donors like Gautam Adani’s Adani Enterprises or Anil Aggarwal’s Vedanta will start annexing India’s pristine forest lands, evict the tribal masses from their water, forests and land using brute force, and turn the green pastures into a heap of coal dust and ashes, the disenfranchised and evicted poor will land up at the shores of the corporate kingdom, where they will be enslaved for generations, often without the basic human rights like the right to water or toilet.
The NPR and NRC in post-lockdown phase, especially in West Bengal where millions lost their identity, will help to provide large batches of such modern slaves to the corporate houses. Violating the rule of capitalism that hitherto paid the working class a wage that can keep them in a reproducing stage, the modern corporates will not mind its slaves dying of hunger, destitution or diseases as long as they get a steady supply of hands from India’s underbelly. As soon as the West Bengal Assembly election 2021 is over and the BJP sweeps West Bengal, it will unleash the NRIC terror on the poor masses of the state, snatching their basic rights and their identity from them. To ensure such an ordeal isn’t faced by the people, it’s imperative to bring forth facts about NPR and NRC to the vulnerable people and encourage them to resist the draconian exercise of the fascist regime.