As 2019 closed, much of what happened in the earlier half of the year was forgotten. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode the waves in the first half. Modi was the story. Now six months later, the solidity of Modi’s leadership is being tested. We are witnessing a mass movement which surpasses the Anna Hazare movement. The sole parallel people can cite is the Navnirman Movement which got Jayaprakash Narayan to give up his retirement from politics to lead a new generation of youth.
This movement has not found its JP. Maybe the millennials are more confident and self-sufficient. Opposition leaders are jumping on their bandwagon and leading from the rear.
It is a classic example of the professionals on both sides having failed to foresee the storm.
For the BJP, it is a rare failure of communication. The Home Ministry may have felt the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was a routine legislation affecting maybe half a million individuals whose life could be improved by getting proper status. It would be helpful to see how over the years refugees’ recognition issue has been tackled and how many cases remain to be settled.
How did this routine issue come to incite such a big fire and wreck India’s reputation abroad? Make no mistake. The opposition to Article 370 abrogation was nothing like this at home or abroad. It was just J&K partisans across the world who were pointing a finger. Now the charge is that the Modi government is against all Indian Muslims. In the Article 370 debate, the battleground was the UN Security Council and the likely critic Pakistan itself not morally strong. But here are the citizens of India, mostly young, convinced that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a threat to their citizenship.
Chief ministers are threatening to prevent the implementation of CAA in their state. What does this entail? Leaving the refugees in their precarious state? Such an exercise of state sovereignty, even if constitutional, does not enhance public welfare.
Whatever the misunderstanding, the Prime Minister has to take charge and convince the unhappy citizens that there is nothing to fear. He should acknowledge their concerns. Ideally, he should summon representatives of all parties as well as civil society groups to a no-holds-barred dialogue (broadcast on live TV) and give adequate time for the fears to be expressed and then dispel them. It would reassure people if someone senior and of unalloyed repute was to chair such a dialogue — say, ex-President Pranab Mukherjee or retired Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. It would be a Teach-in. The idea is for people to be able to articulate differences and receive answers which the Prime Minister alone can give.
The one advantage the Prime Minister has is that he has four-and-a-half years to accomplish many vital goals. If CAA is merely about refugees getting citizenship, rename it as Refugee Naturalisation Act. Calling it Citizenship Amendment Act has fuelled misunderstanding. If Indians are feeling anxious about their future, then it is imperative to address their fears. Modi should postpone the implementation of CAA for a year or two. Enough lives have been lost needlessly.
On the day he won a second term, Modi reiterated his slogan of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. He added Sabka Vishwas. Now is the moment for Sabka Vishwas.
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