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Congress shifts gear in anti-CAA protest. Here’s why this move is significant

The Congress-led Opposition parties have asked non-BJP states to adopt a resolution against conducting the National Population Register.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi arrive to attend an Opposition leaders’ meeting, in Parliament Annexe building, in New Delhi, on Monday.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi arrive to attend an Opposition leaders’ meeting, in Parliament Annexe building, in New Delhi, on Monday. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

The Congress has just shifted gear in the protests against the Citizenship Amended Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). Along with 19 other Opposition parties on Monday, the Congress called upon chief ministers to “consider to suspend the National Population Register (NPR) enumeration as this is a prelude to NRC”.

This is seen as a big leap for the party that has so far been a vocal critic of the ‘citizenship package’ of the BJP government which comprises of the recently-enacted CAA and a proposed NRC. But this is the first time the party is advocating an administrative line of action while continuing political protests on the CAA-NRC-NPR.

So far, only two Opposition states – Kerala and West Bengal – have passed resolutions in the state assemblies against CAA and NRC. Kerala assembly called a one-day special session on December 31 to discuss and adopt a resolution against CAA. And state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan justified the resolution saying, “The act contradicts the basic values and principles of the Constitution.”

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In West Bengal, the assembly passed a resolution on September 6 to oppose the NRC in Assam. The assembly also rejected any possibility of conducting a similar exercise in the state.

And now, the Congress-led Opposition parties have taken a step forward, asking non-BJP states to adopt a resolution against conducting the National Population Register. The resolution adopted at the meeting said, “The CAA, NPR and NRC is a package that is unconstitutional, which specifically targets the poor, the downtrodden, the SC/STs and the linguistic & religious minorities. The NPR is the basis for the NRC. We demand the withdrawal of the CAA and the immediate stoppage of the nationwide NRC/NPR. All the Chief Ministers, who have announced that they will not implement NRC in their State, must consider to suspend the NPR enumeration as this is a prelude to NRC.”

For, it was the Congress-led UPA which had started the NPR in 2010. The data for National Population Register was collected in 2010 alongwith the houselisting phase of Census of India 2011. But now, when the NDA government has taken a cabinet decision to do the same exercise, the Congress has taken a u-turn and asking states to oppose it. According to the Congress leaders, it is borne out of the apprehension that NPR data would be used for NRC. They also pointed out that the government itself had told Parliament that NPR data would be used for NRC.

Currently, the Congress is in power in seven states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. If the state governments decide to oppose NPR and refuse to cooperate with the Centre to conduct the extensive exercise, it will lead to a complex administrative problem for the Centre vis-a-vis the NPR.

If a state resolves to boycott CAA, NRC and NPR, the Centre might be helpless as it is the state’s human resource and machinery that are used for such exercises. It will also raise serious questions on the federal system as citizenship is handled solely by the Centre (it is one of the subjects of the Central List) and states have little role in citizenship matters.

Also, the NPR is used to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country. The database would contain demographic as well as biometric particulars. It helps the government decide its welfare programmes and development strategies. In the absence of an NPR, such schemes may also face hurdles in implementation. tags

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