Even in the context of contentious debates on immigration in Europe and the United States, people rarely question the capacity of their governments to identify their citizens and distinguish them from non-citizens living in the country. But not all governments today have a centralised database of all its citizens.

It was Assam’s endless controversies over nation and citizenship that eventually led Indian state authorities to undertake a massive unprecedented bureaucratic exercise called the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). There was remarkable support for it among all sections of people in Assam at least at the beginning of the operation in 2015. An accurate register of citizens, it was hoped, would end the protracted controversy. That the operation was monitored by the Indian Supreme Court added to its legitimacy in the eyes of the local public. Yet it has been contentious on multiple grounds.

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