NEW DELHI: Amid ongoing protests over the new citizenship law, Union ministers sought to de-emphasise the government’s declared intent to prepare a National Register of Citizens (NRC) even as they stood by the proposed exercise to identify and document citizens. Based on feedback that opposition to changes in the Citizenship Act was fuelled by the fear that it was a prequel to the NRC, allegedly designed to declare large numbers of Muslims as infiltrators, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the NRC process would not be drawn without taking into account the concerns of all concerned. She also said details of the exercise, which home minister Amit Shah had asserted would be carried out across the country, were yet to be worked out. “I wish to state that as and when NRC process starts, it will not start without consulting stakeholders or talking to people. I find it very very surprising that responsible political parties are linking Citizenship Act to something which hasn’t started yet,” she added.The attempt to calm nerves amid continuing violence saw ministers seeking to balance between addressing worries over NRC and justifying changes in the citizenship law without dropping any hint of a re-think over the plan for the national registry.Sitharaman said the CAA was to provide citizenship to people who had fled persecution. “For 70 years, they’ve been waiting, it’s an Act which will give them citizenship so they can live a life of dignity. It has nothing to do with existing citizens of this country,” she added.Shah’s junior in the home ministry, G Kishan Reddy, sought to counter the “misinformation” that NRC was meant to deport Muslims. “Yes, we have announced our intent to prepare a national NRC (National Register of Indian Citizens). But no date or schedule has been decided for the NRC exercise. All-India NRC rules have not been drafted or run through the legislative department. NRIC is not going to happen immediately but in due time. Some people are spreading misinformation that NRC is being prepared countrywide and that all Muslims will be deported,” he said.“I clarify that NRC exercise is yet to be formally announced and as and when it is done, rules and regulations will be so framed to rule out any harassment to Indian citizens,” Reddy added.I&B minister Prakash Javadekar asserted that the NRC exercise would not hurt Indian citizens. “NRC will be implemented very smoothly and no Indian citizen will be deprived of their citizenship. Everyone has Aadhaar. I can assure that whenever NRC happens, it will be smooth and not a single Indian citizen will be deprived of his/her citizenship,” he said. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was in Jaipur to address a pro-CAA rally, made a strong pitch against the opposition bid to dub the legislation as anti-Muslim. “The country belongs to Muslims as much as it belongs to Hindus. It feels good when Muslims progress and become president, vice president, chief justice. If they progress within BJP, we respect them and will continue to respect them,” he said.