NEW DELHI: The Indian government plans to extend its controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) — an exercise to establish genuine citizenship — across the country after its use in the northeastern state of Assam.
In an announcement to Parliament on Wednesday, it also said that the National Citizenship Act 1956 would be amended to speed up the process of granting citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“The process of NRC will be carried out across the country,” Home Minister Amit Shah told the Upper House.
Critics of the NRC fear the exercise could be used to target the country’s Muslim minority, which makes up 14 percent of the population. However, Shah said that “no one from any religion should be worried.”
“The NRC has no provision that says that certain religions will be excluded,” he added. “All citizens of India, irrespective of religion, will figure in the NRC list.”
New Delhi recently carried out a Supreme Court-monitored NRC exercise in Assam and published a citizens’ list on Aug. 31.
The list left 1.9 million people out of the state’s 30 million population stateless.
The NRC in Assam was designed to identify illegal citizens, regardless of religion, who had entered the state from neighboring Bangladesh after March 1971.
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that Hindus left out of the final NRC would not be declared stateless as the government would amend the Citizenship Act to give them citizenship.
Most of the 1.9 million people left out of the final NRC in Assam are Hindus, the BJP’s core constituency. The party fears its strength will be depleted in Assam if Hindu supporters are ignored.
The BJP has used the citizens’ list in its electoral campaigning since 2014. The move paid dividends in 2016 when the party took power in Assam for the first time.
The ruling party plans to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the current parliamentary session.
“Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Christian and Parsi refugees should get citizenship. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is needed so that refugees who are being discriminated against on the basis of religion in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan can get Indian citizenship,” Shah told Parliament.