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CAA-NRC and its misleading historical context

In the historical context, we are justified in helping the persecuted minorities in the three countries but why do we have to mess with the spirit of our Constitution by bringing in religious identity for citizenship?

Written by S Irfan Habib | New Delhi | January 2, 2020 1:49:37 pm
Citizenship Amendment Act, CAA, CAA protests, CAA protests Delhi, Delhi CAA protests, CAA protests New Year, CAA protests India Gate, Delhi news, city news, Indian Express Our nationalism reflected the collective pride of all Indians, no citizen felt left out from its ambit due to religion, caste, language or region. (File)

The whole idea behind the CAA, and it being followed by the proposed NRC, is being linked with the Partition project. This is not only misleading but also a blatant falsification of history. It is being done on the floor of the Parliament, not just by some ordinary members of the House but by the home minister himself. He has even thrust the blame for the religion-based Partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 on to the Congress party of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and others. As if the Muslim League was fighting for a united India. Adding to the confusion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a public rally at Ramlila Maidan expressed surprise and even anger at those who are “spreading rumours that NRC will be implemented all over India”.

Being perpetually in an election mode, our PM has blamed the Congress and other opposition parties for spreading the so-called lies. It is indeed shocking that the PM had to publicly decry what Amit Shah had been espousing— a nationwide NRC. Shah had reiterated his commitment to the NRC on the floor of the House several times.

Now, coming to the historical context of the CAA. How can it be described as an incomplete Partition project? Partition was a tragedy in which millions were killed and displaced from their homes, a majority of them against their wishes on both sides of the border. The hate-filled divisive agenda began in the early twentieth century, almost simultaneously with the nationalist struggle. It was fuelled by the colonial government, which used it as a potential weapon to combat and weaken the freedom struggle. Communalists— Hindu as well as Muslim— worked in tandem and continuously raised divisive issues, egging the communities to be at each others’ throats. The nationalists had to fight on two fronts— against the colonial regime and the enemies within, the communalists.

The Congress and the revolutionaries of the 1920s/30s, despite some fundamental ideological differences, spoke in one voice on the issue of inclusive nationalism. These two decades were crucial for the spread of communalisms of both hues. The Congress of those days, which is run down obsessively by our ruling dispensation today, had gone through a churning to define nationhood and the identity of all Indians. Bhagat Singh, our revolutionary icon, always insisted on a composite nationalism, where religion had no place. As a proclaimed atheist, he would have found it difficult to cope with the proposed religion-based criteria for citizenship.

V D Savarkar made it explicit that nationalism is faith-dependent – one needed to be a Hindu first and nationalist later. And the Muslim communalists under the Muslim League ended up dividing the country using Islam as a prop for the two-nation theory. Pakistan’s dismemberment in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh proved the futility of religion-based nationhood and the salience of linguistic and cultural identities. However, our forefathers, who helped us define our identity, never perceived religion as a pre-requisite for national identity.

Another episode from history is being invoked to justify the CAA, the Nehru-Liaquat pact of April 8, 1950. Prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan opened channels of communication and reached an agreement to resolve some serious post-Partition issues to bring about peace in the region. The four main concerns relevant in the present context were:

> refugees were allowed to return unmolested to dispose of their property

> abducted women and looted property were to be returned

> forced conversions were unrecognized

> minority rights were confirmed

Following the Nehru-Liaquat pact, the two countries set up minority commissions to implement the terms of the pact. We are all aware that the two countries took absolutely different trajectories in their historical development. India opted to be a democratic, secular and pluralist republic and thus its minority commission worked more responsibly. On the contrary, Pakistan, opted to be an Islamic Republic, where democracy remained elusive, military dictatorships thrived and finally General Ziaul Haq’s regime propelled Islam as an empowered ideology. Farahnaz Ispahani in Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities explained the plight of not only Hindus, Christians and Sikhs but also Shias and Ahmadias. However, we should not target our Muslim minority because Pakistan did not live up to the Nehru-Liaquat pact.

In this historical context, we are justified in helping the persecuted minorities in the three countries but why do we have to mess with the spirit of our Constitution by bringing in religious identity for citizenship? Since Muslims can’t be a “persecuted minority” in any of these three countries, what is the need to bring in religion at all? We could have helped anyone who proved that she/he is persecuted.

Our nationalism reflected the collective pride of all Indians, no citizen felt left out from its ambit due to religion, caste, language or region. As Gopal Gandhi recently said, “India is all Indians and all Indians are India”. This is at the core of our Constitution as well. Any departure from this fundamental ethos will cause unease and insecurity among people who constitute this nation.

Habib is a historian and author

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