NEW DELHI: Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Monday dubbed the National Register of Citizens (NRC) a "sinister and mischievous plan" to divide the country and alleged that the NRC-CAA-NPR exercise is part of the RSS-BJP plan to push its "divisive" agenda of a 'Hindu Rashtra'.
Asked whether the Congress-ruled states will participate in the exercise to update the National Population Register (NPR) or not, he said, "...that question should be put to the chief ministers.
As of now our position is, we oppose the CAA and we oppose the NPR exercise.
Terming the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) "patently discriminatory", he said three neighbouring countries have been included, while Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan excluded and some minority groups, including Muslims, kept out of its ambit.
The people who will be directly affected are the Muslims of India, Chidambaram said, adding that all other religious groups, even if excluded under the NRC, will be included under the CAA and it is only the Muslims who will be identified as illegal migrants under the NRC and excluded under the CAA.
"Naturally, there is widespread fear and uncertainty among the Muslims of India, the former Union finance minister said.
He also clarified that there is a world of difference between the National Population Register of 2010 and the NPR of 2020 and it must be opposed after a "failed" Assam NRC-like exercise.
"The NRC is a sinister and mischievous plan to divide India. Under the NRC, every person residing in India has to prove that he is a citizen of India. In modern, liberal democracies, citizenship is based on the principle of territoriality," he told reporters.
"Don't compare 2010 and 2020. 2010 and 2020 are like chalk and cheese. 2010 was cheese, 2020 is chalk," he said.
Chidambaram said if the state suspects that a person is not a citizen, the burden of proving that the person is not a citizen lies on the state.
On the contrary, under the NRC, the burden of proving that he is a citizen falls upon the person concerned, he said.
"This is contrary to the basic tenets of a democracy. It is this perverse burden of proof that was applied in Assam: the result was that 19,06,657 people were identified as illegal migrants or stateless persons. Most of them belong to the poorest and vulnerable sections of society. No one knows what their fate will be," the senior Congress leader said.
The NPR of 2020 with additional fields of information is a disguised attempt to carry out an Assam NRC-like exercise throughout the country and must be "stoutly opposed", he told reporters.
"The NRC-CAA-NPR exercise is part of the RSS-BJP plan to push its divisive agenda of a Hindu Rashtra. The Constitution of India embodies the values of equality, equal protection of the laws, secularism, humanism and constitutional morality. In order to protect these values, every patriotic Indian has the duty to fight the pernicious doctrine of Hindu Rashtra," Chidambaram said.
The Congress leader said that is why thousands of people, especially students, are on the streets to save the idea of India and protect the Constitution "given to us by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Babasaheb Ambedkar".
"Abraham Lincoln saved the Constitution of the United States in 1865, our task and our duty are not different," he noted.
Chidambaram said the widespread protests have forced the government to backtrack on what the home minister and other ministers had said in Parliament on many occasions, the most recent being December 9 in Lok Sabha and December 11 in Rajya Sabha.
"The government has therefore come up with the idea of National Population Register (NPR) and has attempted to liken it with the census-related exercise undertaken in 2010. There is a world of difference between NPR 2010 and NPR 2020. NPR 2010 was conducted in a few states when there was no controversy about NRC and without the unhappy experience of the Assam NRC," he said.
He said earlier there was no CAA looming large and the NPR 2010 gathered data in respect of only 15 fields while to the contrary, NPR 2020 will be conducted all over the country.
Chidambaram said it will be done in the background of the "disastrous experience of the Assam NRC and the discriminatory CAA", and the form that will be used in NPR 2020 will have many additional fields -- "all mischievous and irrelevant to a census".
"NPR 2020 will ask for information on the last place of residence, the place of birth of the parents, voter identity, passport number, driver's licence, PAN and Aadhaar. Who added these additional fields and why? In terms of text and context, NPR 2010 and NPR 2020 are very different. NPR 2020 with the additional fields is a disguised attempt to do an Assam NRC-like exercise throughout the country and therefore, it must be stoutly opposed," the Congress leader said.