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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Centre can enforce its word on CAA

The opposition parties have been caught flat-footed. It was students who led the protest. Even the recent meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi showed a divided Opposition, and a strategy based on power of chief ministers to challenge CAA rather than any mass movement.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: January 19, 2020 9:50:10 am
caa, citizenship amendment acc, caa petitions supreme court, supreme court caa petitions, meghalaya petitions caa From the moves so far which have flagged their intentions, it is possible to guess that the goal of redefining Indian citizenship is a priority. (Representational/File)

How do you make sense of the last few months of Indian politics? The BJP having won a second and larger majority is entrenched in power. In May 2019, it looked as if it was the new Hegemon. But the BJP seems unsure of its tenure. It seems to be in a tearing hurry to act. Amit Shah said recently that the BJP had implemented 90% of its manifesto. What is left to do in the four-and-a-quarter years left?

From the moves so far which have flagged their intentions, it is possible to guess that the goal of redefining Indian citizenship is a priority. The National Register of Citizens and the National Population Register are meant to weed out people with inadequate proof of citizenship. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act will ensure that non-Muslim people with inadequate papers will be brought in as refugees. Can the government get away with it? Why ever not?

In Indian democracy, power of a government comes from the electoral success it has achieved. First past the post does not require a majority of votes, just a majority of seats. As in the United Kingdom, a party with a majority in the directly elected chamber commands legitimacy. The Rajya Sabha is more powerful than the House of Lords as it is (indirectly) elected and not appointed.

If so, the BJP will be within its power to implement CAA/NRC as long as the Rajya Sabha acquiesces. There are no other constraints that can be put on the government. As was seen in the recent judgment on the Internet suspension in Jammu & Kashmir, fundamental rights are subject to severe limitations as per the First Amendment, which was proposed by none other than Jawaharlal Nehru within 15 months of the adoption of the Constitution. The 1949 Constitution embodied the Anglo-American set of fundamental rights. The First Amendment restored the colonial state but with brown saheb rulers. The Partition and fear of Balkanisation led to a strong centralist bias, and the only way states can exert pressure on the Centre is through Rajya Sabha or street demonstrations.

The recent agitation against CAA shows this. The government has now notified the legislation so its implementation has neither been annulled nor even delayed. The government does not intend to relent. Narendra Modi said his government had not even discussed implementing NRC nationwide. He has obviously been overruled by the hard BJP core. Modi 1.0 began with Swachh Bharat. Modi 2.0 is about Swachh Bharatiyata. Since RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said all those living in India are Hindus, regardless of their religion, can the Prime Minister offer an inclusive approach which will be conciliatory? Or will the hard core of the BJP shout him down once again?

The opposition parties have been caught flat-footed. It was students who led the protest. Even the recent meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi showed a divided Opposition, and a strategy based on power of chief ministers to challenge CAA rather than any mass movement.

As this is a Central subject, the Centre can enforce its word. Rushing to the Supreme Court will not help. There is no violation of the Constitution in CAA, and NRC was ordered by the Supreme Court itself for Assam.

I would be happy to be proved wrong.

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