For the present NDA government, unemployment touching a 45-year high, GDP growth slowing down to 4.5 per cent, inflation touching double digits, increasing farmers’ distress, deteriorating law and order situation, an increase in mob lynchings in the name of cow protection, education and teachers’ problems and hospitals for the poor are not priority issues. Their priority is the ruthless passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament through political maneuvring.
The law is a severe blow to the basic tenets the Constitution. Further, this amendment has been justfied with the argument that had Partition not been done on religious lines, the Bill would not be required. Considering we are enabling a law that will decide the fate of over 130 crore people in this country, this argument sounds immature. The CAA/NRC is another ploy in the series of continuous diversionary actions by the government to deflect the people’s attention from their basic needs.
Unfortunately, going by the BJP’s agenda, this contentious legislation will also become part of a Hindu supremacist agenda — the same agenda the party has been pushing for nearly six years. Many feel that the CAA is part of a deeper strategy to polarise India, an apprehension that is given credence by the government’s actions on triple talaq, removal of Article 370 and so on. The priority of the government is to arouse sentiments, especially among Hindus, along religious lines for vote-bank politics. The BJP’s priorities revolve around notions like love jihad and ghar wapasi. Even during elections, the party has given the least number of tickets to minorities.
The CAA is the most significant move yet to profoundly alter India’s secular nature, as enshrined by its founding leaders. This mischievous piece of legislation could well strike a fatal blow to India’s globally-acclaimed fabric of pluralism.
One instantly gets the feeling that the CAA is fundamentally discriminatory, something which undermines India’s commitment to international law and the Constitution. Only a year ago, India endorsed the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, which obliges all states who are part of the pact to commit themselves to respond to the needs of migrants “in situations of vulnerability, avoiding arbitrary detention and collective expulsions and ensuring that all migration governance measures are human rights-based”.
What is highly discriminatory and unacceptable is, that while the biased legislation seeks to expedite citizenship for six religious minorities fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, it does not extend the same protection to Muslims. Does it mean that Muslims have not been persecuted in these countries, and is there any authority which has verified this? Further, the question remains as to why these three countries have been chosen and not others — such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bhutan.
Given the vociferous, nation-wide protests against the CAA, the Modi government must seriously introspect before going ahead with its proposed move to put in place a country-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC). Theoretically, the NRC would ask all citizens to prove their citizenship. This, in itself, is grotesque: The equivalent of holding all citizens guilty until they prove themselves to be innocent. It is actually much worse than that because, in effect, the only citizens who would have to provide documentary proof of their belonging would be Muslims — because going by the terms of the CAA, all non-Muslim illegal immigrants would have an amnestied path to citizenship, immune to the dangers of internment or deportation. It is not only Muslims, but the socio-economically weaker sections of society — who bear, literally, only their bodies with them, and who have left their homes behind in search of work — who will find it difficult to produce any documentation.
NRC was a promise made in the Assam Accord. However, in the recent NRC exercise conducted in the state, over 19 lakh foreigners were identified— as based on the 1985 Assam Accord cut-off date — and a majority of those denied citizenship were found to be Hindus or from the indigenous tribes. So, the local people are now saying that the CAA has been brought in to accommodate those Hindus.
In Assam, except in Barak valley where Bengali speakers are in a majority, people fear that the CAA will lead to lakhs of Hindus from Bangladesh swarming indigenous communities, leading to a burden on resources and threatening their language, culture and tradition. This move will further alienate not only Muslims, but also the weaker sections of society from the national mainstream: It will instill a feeling of being second-class citizens in the Northeast and the entire country. This will prove disastrous to India’s much-acclaimed ethos of secularism and pluralism.
I would like to conclude by saying that the need of the hour is unity of all opposition parties so that the anti-democracy and unconstitutional actions of the ruling party are curtailed: It is imperative if we are to create a better and prosperous India for the future generation.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 18, 2019 under the title ‘A time to unite’. The writer is a former Union minister.