Shah said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was right saying that there had been no discussion yet on a nationwide NRC.
Shah accused the Opposition of spreading “misinformation” on the issue, appealed to Kerala and West Bengal governments to allow NPR and conceded there might have been lack of communication on the part of the government on the issue. The home minister said the NPR was first conducted during the tenure of UPA 2 in 2010.
Opposition parties and rights activists disputed the minister's claims. They pointed to at least eight instances where the Modi government has said, including on the floor of Parliament, that the NPR data would form the basis for NRC.
The Congress said the 2010 NPR questionnaire was significantly different from the 2020 NPR questionnaire currently in the public domain. To Shah's charge that NPR’s opponents were denying the poor, including the minorities, benefits of government schemes, opposition parties said the Aadhaar took care of that need and NPR was redundant. They said the Centre should go ahead with Census 2021 but cancel NPR.
Hours after the Union Cabinet approved Rs 3,941.35 crore for NPR, Shah spoke to a private news agency. "NPR is register of population, NRC is register of citizens. There is no link between the two and the two have different processes," he said. “There should be no fear in the minds of any citizen, specially minority... our Muslim brothers... that NPR data will be used for NRC,” Shah said.
“NPR is the basis for the structure of government schemes. A few things are new in the NPR like what is the area of the house, how many cattle, etc,” he said. Shah indicated that he might reach out to chief ministers who have announced they would not conduct NPR in their states, and also said the provision of detention centres was put in place during the UPA years.
The minister’s comments come in the wake of widespread nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NRC by students, activists, and political parties. Nearly two dozen people have been killed in violence and police action related to these protests.
Congress Spokesperson Ajay Maken said Shah's claim of "no link" between the NPR and the NRC was a "bigger lie" than what the PM had said at the Ramlila ground on Sunday. Maken said the Ministry, in its annual report in 2018-19, had stated that the NPR was the first step to NRC. Maken and other opposition parties pointed to statements by ministers in Parliament connecting NPR and NRC, and said the government was now caught in a trap of its own.
“We started it, but we never linked it to the NRC. Who is linking the NPR to the NRC? NPR alone is fine, but when you link it with NRC, it becomes draconian. Then it becomes something which is a violation of human rights and of the secular credentials of the Constitution,” Maken said.
The CPI (M) polit bureau asked all CMs opposing NRC to “abandon” the NPR activities in their respective states. It said the NPR exercise will require people to declare date and place of birth of parents along with furnishing data on 21 additional points. “Most of the data being collected now was not collected in the last NPR exercise in 2010,” it said.
It is clear that the NPR is the first stage of the exercise to implement the NRC, the CPI(M) said. “Notwithstanding the untruths of PM Modi, it is abundantly clear that the NPR will lay the foundation for the NRC,” the statement said. CPI (M) chief Sitaram Yechury said while the Census should continue, the NPR should be cancelled.