Former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday, 13 February, tearing into the CAA-NRC-NPR triad as “hopelessly foolish, inhumane, monstrous ideas”, presented his take on the chronology of the three and how one led to the other.
Asserting that the Congress party will oppose the Constitutionality of the Amendment to the Citizenship Act legally and the National Population Register politically, Chidambaram claimed, “the CAA was a direct result of the utter fiasco of Assam (NRC).”
Speaking at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the Congress leader contended that while the CAA was enacted to grant citizenship to the 12 lakh Hindus left out in the NRC in Assam, the NPR was brought in because of the “strident opposition: to the CAA.
The venue of Chidambaram’s speech, however, wore a layer of symbolism as it was delivered on the lawn outside Sabarmati Hostel, which had borne the brunt of the horrific brutality unleashed upon students by masked goons on 5 January.
He, however, chose to focus specifically on CAA-NRC-NPR, offering no comment on the violence in JNU that unfolded a few feet from .
His talk opposing the CAA and “oppression of people”, however, faced heat on social media from members of left student organisations, who questioned his authority to speak on “persecution of the oppressed”.
Chidambaram, 73 has faced intense criticism for the killing of 20 alleged Maoists by CRPF jawans in Chhattisgarh on 29 June 2012. He served as home minister from November 2008 to July 2012 in the UPA government and at Thursday’s event, was described as the “the chief architect” of the “deaths of several innocent Adivasi lives.” on messaging platforms.
His speech, however, encountered no disruption.
Speaking to a gathering of over a hundred students, the Congress leader said that all three must be opposed and that he was confident that the Supreme Court will strike down the CAA.
“Opposition to the fiasco of NRC gave rise to CAA. The opposition to the CAA gave rise to the NPR.”
Tracing the genesis of the controversy to Assam, the only state where the NRC exercise has been carried out, Chidambaram claimed, the “difficulty” arose when the revised list of over 19 lakh excluded residents included 12 lakh HIndus.
“What does the poor Hindutva driven government do,” he asked rhetorically. “What do you do? The whole project is floundering,” he asked, adding that the “only way to get out of the Assam fiasco” was to enact a law that would allow the excluded Hindus to stay.
“That’s the story of the CAA,” he said.
Once the CAA was enacted on 11 December, it was the resilient protests against the act that led to the introduction of the NPR. “The mischief is found when you look at the draft of the questionnaire”.
“why do you want to know where my parents were born?” he asked, pointing to the list of eight draft questions in the NPR, a register of the usual residents of the country. Among the questions, however, is a heavily criticised column which seeks to know where one’s parents were born.
According to Chidambaram, “whole idea is to link you somehow to Pakistan or Bangladesh and then mark you as doubtful”
What Home Minister Amit Shah Said
Speaking at a press conference in Kolkata in April 2019, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had asserted that the first the Citizenship Amendment Act would come and then an all-India NRC would be carried out.
“Please understand the chronology. First CAB will come and after that NRC will come, not just for Bengal but all of India,” he had told the media.
The Union Cabinet on 24 December, had approved funds to the tune of over Rs 3,941.35 crore to update the National Population Register (NPR), raising widespread concerns that the NPR was a lead up to the NRC.
“NPR Census has no relation to the NRC,” Shah had said in an interview to ANI. However, despite the vehement denials, the Home Ministry has itself in official releases said that the NPR is the “first step” towards the NRC.
This requirement in the current NPR to disclose the birthplace of one’s parents was not a part of the previous NPR exercises conducted in 2010 and 2015.
“This is of crucial significance and to understand this, let’s look at the Citizenship Act” said Supreme Court advocate Gautam Bhatia in a video he had shared with The Quint.
Section 3 of Citizenship Act says that those born after 1 July 1987 will have to prove that one of their parents is an Indian citizen. However, those born after 2003 must prove that one parent is an Indian citizen and the other is not an illegal immigrant.
“What I want to emphasise is that the clear overlap between what the Citizenship Act prescribes as a requirement of becoming a citizen on one hand and what this new requirement of the NPR prescribes, that overlap is identical,” Bhatia had added in a video he had shared with The Quint.
Citizenship Basis Changed From Territory To Religion: Chidambaram
At the beginning of his speech, Chidambaram said that all over the world, the principle of citizenship is based on a principle called jus soli – it goes with the territory.
“Ordinarily, someone who lives here, or has lived here, or whose parents and grandparents have lived here are presumed to be citizens.”
“What have they done? They have cut at the foundation of India’s citizenship premise,” said the Rajya Sabha MP, adding that “citizenship for a certain section of people will be based on religion, not territory.”
Describing the position that CAA allows persecuted individuals to come to India as “a superficial view” Chidambaram said, that “the deeper cut” is that the government is “changing the basis of citizenship from territory to religion.”
In doing so, he said, his first objection to the Amendment to the Citizenship Act was that the government was, “undermining the basis of the Constitution.”
‘Blood on Your Hands’: Left Organisations
Chidambaram’s entry in JNU, however, also raised memories of his tenure as Home Minister and the staunch opposition he had encountered from left students organisations like the SFI, AISA and BAPSA.
On Thursday, while the event concluded smoothly, WhatsApp messages reading “Never Forget. Never Forgive. You Have Blood on Your Hands Mr Chidambaram,” also did the rounds.
On Thursday, the Congress leader asked how “Adivasis, Tribals, Dalits” could be asked to “show evidence of where he was born or where his father was born” in a country where even today 40% births go unrecorded.