Chetan Bhagat : NRC is secular harassment for all

I read Chetan’s column on Times of India just a few minutes ago and frankly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a concept that cannot work in a country like India until our bureaucratic systems are in perfect shape (which will take years if not decades) and it is high time that our leaders put both this exercise and their massive egos in cold storage for the foreseeable future.

Even if you support the government and are pleased with the highly contentious and totally unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the NRC is a different beast altogether. It is very easy to fall for the government’s narrative that this exercise – along with the National Population Register (NPR) – will help weed out the illegal immigrants from the country. But what it will actually do is to brand all 135 crore citizens of our country as illegal immigrants until proven otherwise.

Nothing more than a poisoned chalice

The government wants you to believe that anyone opposing NRC is either brainwashed or anti-national or both. Even if that were true, what do you think are we supposed to do with these supposedly misguided souls who are not a small number going by the size of the rallies and social media conversations that have taken place ever since the triple-headed monster of CAA-NPR-NRC became a reality. Do you want to demonize them even further (something that a large part of our news media has already done)? Do you want to curb their right to dissent? Do you want to put them in jails? Do you want to execute all of them?

If your answer to any of the above questions is yes, then pray tell us what was their crime that deserves such a harsh penalty? And will awarding them that punishment is all that our country needs to get back on the path of ‘Acche Din’, a path that we had strayed from so long ago that is is not even visible on the horizon.

Disagreement with someone’s viewpoint does not warrant any sort of punishment regardless of what the BJP or their highly active Godi Media may want you to think. It is a basic human principle that we should all adhere to since we profess to be the ‘world’s largest democracy’ – a claim that is increasingly sounding hollow by the day.

The naked exhibition of Islamophobia

The chief strategists in the BJP looked at NRC as their golden ticket to victory in state elections in West Bengal and Assam. Their aim with implementing an Islamophobic CAA and following it up with a flawed nationwide NRC was two-fold.

First, to give citizenship in droves to a big number of Hindus from Bangladesh, especially those who were left out of NRC in Assam, this securing a large vote-bank for themselves. And second, to accentuate the Hindu-Muslim divide in the state by using NRC as a tool to disenfranchise millions of Muslims residing in these states who might not have all the relevant documents. Although the negative impact of NRC will be felt by the not so well-off sections of our society, it will be even more pronounced on the Muslims since they do not have the safety net of CAA.

An inept, corrupt and bigoted bureaucratic machinery

The trauma of a flawed NRC exercise, on the poor in general and Muslims in particular, will be further exacerbated by a bureaucracy that is notorious not only for the rampant corruption but also for its lethargy, incompetence and insensitivity towards the citizens whom it is supposed to serve. If that was not enough, it decided to add bigotry to the list. It is an open secret that many of those in babudom do not hesitate from displaying their communal biases in the open, especially when someone from a particular group/s come to their doorstep for getting their work done.

The reason is simple. Ever since the BJP came into power in 2014, there has been a rise in incidents related to communal hatred (both verbal and physical) being displayed in the open – a result of and it has not left the bureaucracy untouched. On the other hand, it has emboldened them even further. And these are the same people who would be responsible for implementing a legislation as complex and humongous as NRC where they get to decide on the citizenship of the second largest population of the world.

It is also well known around the world that our bureaucracy is anything but well-oiled machinery. Anyone who has lived in this country knows just how pathetic, ineffectual and error-prone those working for the government really are. You take any government scheme that has ever been implemented in independent India and it would be impossible not to find errors of omission or commission or both, all because our bureaucracy functions on collective inefficiency in spite of the untiring efforts of many officers within that same ecosystem to make a positive change.

Isn’t it terrifying when you begin to realize just how much power a government servant might have over your entire existence and how they will most definitely use that power to engage in even more corruption and bigotry than usual. We already knew that our babus behave like those exploitative landlords of ancient times who are only interested in making money out of your misery. But if the NRC is implemented, they will go a step further.

It has become impossible for many of us to trust the government or those representing it any longer. They lie to us with impunity, they are exploitative, they do not care about the well being of their own people and they leave no opportunity to create a communal divide among us. They do not care about the fact that many of us do not have the required documents and our nation may face a kind of hardship never seen before. If you thought that demonetization was troublesome, wait till you have to get in line in front of a government that takes your money as tax, takes your votes to sit in power and then has the audacity to brand you as an immigrant until you show them the documents that they deem necessary to convince themselves of your Indianness.

Image Source : Google Images

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