Over the past few weeks, I watched with increasing distress the violent opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the as yet non-existent National Register of Citizens. Misinformation and misrepresentation are being used to inflame insecurities. Every trick is being used to game our democratic systems. What is particularly distressing is that not even Mahatma Gandhi has been spared in this diabolical game of inflaming passions and inciting violence. Those opposed to the inherently humane CAA law have mangled and distorted the real views of Bapu to build a case for their bigoted world view. I wonder if silence is a virtue anymore. In sharing my views, I have collated facts that should help the reader assess the need for the CAA and NRC and also bring out the real views of the Mahatma.
In 1906, the Muslim League was founded to promote Muslim interests. In October 1906, Viceroy Lord Minto heard a delegation of 35 Muslim leaders from various Indian provinces who demanded separate electorates for Muslims in Muslim-majority provinces and reserved seats in the Imperial Council. In 1909, the parliament of the UK passed the Indian Councils Act. For the first time, seats would be reserved for Muslims, where only Muslims would be polled. It was this patronage of the Muslim League by the British that would eventually break the unity of India.
Fast forward to 1946. In January 1946, elections were held for the provincial and central legislatures in 17 provinces. While the Congress claimed that it represented all of undivided India’s population, the Muslim League contended that it was representing all its Muslims. The dominant issue of these elections became the contention that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations and can never stay in one country. The Muslim League won 87 per cent of the reserved seats (429/492). The overwhelming majority of Muslims in undivided India voted for the Muslim League and its demand for a separate nation for Muslims.
After 1947, the leadership in Pakistan consolidated its political position by appeasing the Muslim majority. This was done by reinforcing the role of the Holy Quran, Shariat and Sunnah in the affairs of the state. Here lie the roots of the subsequent genocide of the non-Muslim religious minorities of Pakistan.
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Gandhiji had much to say about the post-Partition plight of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and the need to secure justice from Pakistan. Here I share his own words, chosen from Gandhiji’s Delhi Diary, which contains his speeches and first hand accounts of his views:
September 25, 1947 (page 35), on the duty of the Union government: “…To ensure the safety of the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan was the duty of the Indian Union Government. But for that the Government should be given a free hand and should receive the full and sincere cooperation of every Indian.”
Mother India, whose life breath is Sanatana Dharma, ensured that Muslims and every other religious minority were equal citizens. We are the people who proclaim “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah”. It is, therefore, difficult to accept claims that the minorities of India have been deprived.
September 26, 1947 (page 39) on injustice not being tolerated: “He (Gandhiji) had been an opponent of all warfare. But if there was no other way of securing justice from Pakistan, if Pakistan persistently refused to see its proved error and continued to minimise it, the Indian Union Government would have to go to war against it.”
In 1973, Pakistan adopted a new constitution which proclaimed it to be an Islamic nation. The ethnic cleansing of the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan unfolded in front of the whole world. The government of independent India did nothing to help these unfortunate people.
On December 11, 2019, the CAA was passed by our Parliament. The amendment dilutes the citizenship requirements for those non-Muslim minorities, specifically Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from the Islamic republics of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who entered India before December 31, 2014. The amendment does not take away citizenship of any Indian citizen of any religion; the amendment does not take away the right of anyone to apply for Indian citizenship; the amendment is close-ended.
The CAA, therefore, supports the wishes of Gandhiji in letter and spirit. It took 72 years for a government to put aside political calculations and have the courage to implement Gandhiji’s wishes.
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Our population is growing by more than 15 million per year. No government in the world can provide the resources and jobs to support such increases in the population. It is the primary duty of any responsible, elected government to make an accurate estimate of its population. A national register of citizens (NRC), in my view, is therefore a must.
A united India is a prerequisite to a “strong India”. As I see it, destroying the “politics of appeasement” is the unfinished Gandhian agenda. To keep India weak, the objection to CAA will be weaponised by clubbing it with an as yet non-existent NRC. These forces will also weaponise Gandhiji by misinterpreting him. We must understand Gandhiji, understand his roots. Beware of the intermediaries who claim expertise on Gandhian thought but, in reality, are in opposition Gandhiji’s worldview.
Gandhiji was rooted in sanatana dharma and the Bhagwad Gita. He was a “spiritual aspirant”, thrust into a socio-political role. Would Gandhiji support the Shaheen Bagh protests? A protest rooted in fear mongering, bigotry and untruths about the CAA and NRC? Absolutely not. We have a nation to build. We can ill-afford such manufactured, sponsored distractions. We must ensure that the CAA and NRC are implemented. The CAA can help heal wounds and reconcile our past. And, the NRC will set the foundation on which we can secure our present and our future.
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This article first appeared in the print edition on February 20, 2020, under the title ‘Misreading the Mahatma’. The writer is chairman of the board of directors of IIM, Calcutta and Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson.
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