NRC has caused huge controversy, polarised opinion, created massive anxiety and made people come out on the streets. The government is now on the back foot. However, it hasn’t done what it should – to officially withdraw it or put it in long-term cold storage.
This isn’t and should not be about ego. Yes, NRC is not a bad idea in theory. However, it will falter in execution and has questionable benefits given the reality of India. If put in practice in today’s India, the results could range from pointless to disastrous. At best, it will be an expensive yet meaningless and chaotic exercise. At worst, it could trigger a civil war.
One might say how can one comment on NRC when its details aren’t available, especially about the criteria and methodology of proving one’s citizenship. Here’s the problem. No matter what the criteria, NRC won’t work at the moment.
If the criteria are too simple, it will lead to almost everyone making it through NRC. If three witnesses or any existing ID is all it will take, every person on Indian soil will enter NRC. There will still be queues, mountains of paperwork, harassment, errors and the usual Indian bureaucratic eccentricities. It will be essentially another Aadhaar-repeat exercise. And since everyone will make it, there will be no point at the end of it. We would have wasted serious money, tons of time and productivity to achieve a bloated register of citizens with erroneous data.
The second scenario, when the criteria are made too hard, will be a bigger nightmare. This is when proving you are a citizen requires serious historical paperwork. Birth certificates from ages ago will have to be sourced. The hospitals where people were born might have closed down. The village officer who issues birth certificates may have died. Home births will have no clue what to do. All existing IDs will be invalid. In this scenario, all Indians will be non-citizens unless proven otherwise.
The rich and affluent will finally make it. The poor will scramble, grovel and beg. The sarkari babu will enjoy this extra power boost. Oh, and there will still be a rate. It’s just that the stricter the criteria are, the higher the rate will be.
And then there will be the fake document crisis. Is it that hard to Photoshop an old birth certificate? If you don’t pay the rate, is it that hard for the babu to reject your genuine birth certificate (good luck proving its authenticity in court for the next 20 years).
These things are not right. Pushed to the wall, people may protest. Some protests will become riots. There may be a register at the end of it. However, the data, along with the peace of the country, will be contaminated.
Hence, no matter what the criteria, NRC in a country like India with all its realities is currently unworkable. Maybe we can have requirements for all children born in India post-2020. In a few decades, this may lead to a good register. For now, this is a non-starter.
But why were we doing this anyway? Well, all this is done under the assumption that a percentage of Indian population comprises infiltrators, who are a drain on national resources. First, this assumption may not be true, as even infiltrators contribute to GDP.
Anyway, leave immigrant contribution aside. Let’s say we do a good NRC. For a change, all Indians become honest, every Indian has documents arranged in neat files and all bureaucrats work with a smile and zero abuse. Let’s say we get a neat and clean NRC, and 5% of people are deemed non-citizens after the exercise. That’s over 6 crore people, or the population of the UK! What do you do with them? Which flight out are you putting them all on?
Now think about this. What’s easier? Accurately identifying these 6 crore people and shipping them all out? Or simply growing our economy faster and adding 5% to our GDP? Even if infiltrators were draining us, this leakage of 5% is much harder to fix than simply creating more wealth. If it’s easier to plant a few more mango trees, are you going to spend your entire year chasing the village kids who stole a couple of mangoes?
NRC is like taking attendance. But you can’t take attendance on a busy train platform like India. It will only lead to chaos, errors, altercations, people missing their trains and worst case some people dying on the tracks.
Execution, however, is not the only reason why NRC should be shelved for now. The trust factor with BJP when it comes to minority issues is extraordinarily low. The leadership has an authoritarian, fear driven image. Fair or not, isn’t there a difference if Manmohan Singh had asked for your details vs if Amit Shah did?
Apart from this, the timing of NRC isn’t right. Nullification of Article 370 and the Ayodhya judgment are all seen as Hindu victories in certain sections of India. This same section also sees NRC as pro-Hindu (it isn’t, as NRC is secular. It would cause secular harassment to all). Hence, to keep pushing such items in quick succession will only drive a community up the wall, give opposition a chance to bash BJP and lead to the kind of protests we saw recently. The timing also isn’t right as the economy needs a lot of work. India cannot afford unrest right now.
We have an economy to work on, that’s exciting enough and needs to be the number one priority. NRC needs to take a rest for now, officially.