The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 is “historic” but not for the reasons that Union Home Minister Amit Shah called it so, while moving the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. In the guise of righting what it calls a Partition wrong, and giving refuge to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries, the Narendra Modi government has bulldozed a poisonous bill through Parliament which effects a majoritarian recasting of the very idea of Indian citizenship, makes religion a criterion.
This is not a law that concerns those it seeks to include — six minority groups from three countries. It is a political signal of a terrible narrowing, a chilling exclusion, directed at India’s own largest minority. India is to be redefined as the natural home of Hindus, it says to India’s Muslims. And that they must, therefore, be content with a less natural citizenship.
The responsibility and blame for this offensive law, this tragic moment, rests squarely on the BJP, the party of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The party that proclaimed “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas” has diminished the people’s mandate in interpreting it as a license to push through this impoverished and shrunken idea of citizenship after piloting a National Register of Citizens process in Assam that has ignited religious and ethnic faultlines and pushed lakhs of Indians to the edge of statelessness — the region is seeing renewed violence on the CAB. It brings in this law not long after revoking Article 370 in Kashmir in a way that silenced and relegated the Kashmiri people, and continues to isolate them.
In the gallery of shame, after the BJP and alongside it, are many of its allies who have earlier professed allegiance to a secular, capacious idea of India. Men like Nitish Kumar, chief of the JD(U), and Chief Minister of Bihar, who has, in his previous political incarnations, spoken long and loud for an inclusive national landscape more sensitive and respectful to the concerns and rights of its minorities. Men like Ram Vilas Paswan, whose voice has always rung louder than tiny LJP’s electoral clout, and who once walked out of a BJP-led ministry because of the bloodletting in Gujarat under its watch.
The political crime scene today bears the fingerprints of all those partners and allies that earlier nudged the BJP to pitch its tent wider — and are unabashedly cosying up to it today in its terrible shrinking.
Shah has assured the Muslims of India that they have no reason to fear, that they are and will remain citizens of the country. It will be a sad day for India if India’s Muslims have to take this or any Home Minister’s word for it. India is a constitutional democracy with a basic structure that assures a secure and spacious home for all Indians, including and especially its minorities, and this architecture has endured, by and large.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 should have been stopped by the legislature, things should not have come to this pass. Now, the judiciary must rise again to the Constitution’s defence, as it has done at several turning points before, and protect the spirit of the Republic, its very soul.