On 17 March, the union government filed a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court in response to at least 144 petitions challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. The act had paved the way for members of six communities, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who entered India before 31 December 2014, from three countries—Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan—to avail Indian citizenship with ease. As the government is likely to go forward with a plan to prepare a National Register of Citizens, the act has been perceived by petitioners as a cushion for the six communities if they are found to be without documents that can prove their citizenship. Since Muslims are the only large group that has been excluded from the CAA, the NRC is likely to be an existential threat to the citizenship of members of the community.
Defending the CAA in its counter affidavit, the government called it “a reinstatement of Indian ideals of secularism, equality and fraternity.” It also defended the preparation of an NRC as a “necessary exercise” and a “responsibility” conferred on it through a “combined reading” of the Foreigners Act, The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Citizenship Act 1955.
The defence of the NRC in the submission contradicted the claim of the prime minister Narendra Modi who, in December 2019, had claimed that his government had not had a single discussion on the pan-India NRC.
The affidavit got little media attention because that same day, the government also issued travel advisories banning any passenger from countries of the European Union, United Kingdom and Turkey from entering the country in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. That day, almost all television channels ran prime-time panel discussions on the travel advisory.
The government’s defence of the CAA and NRC, as evident from the affidavit, comes across as deeply disingenuous. It provided convoluted and often incoherent arguments for why it chose these six specific communities, from three specific countries. In its attempt to answer various points raised in the petitions, the government has cherry-picked historical data and made assertions based on scant evidence. The affidavit is riddled with contradictory statements and unconvincing extrapolation of existing laws. It also does nothing to address allegations of many critics that the combination of the CAA and the NRC are an attack on the citizenship of Indian Muslims.