Other voices

Members of the Christian community along with social activists hold placards as they take part in a rally to protests against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Act, in Kolkata on Jan. 20, 2020. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images)

The anti-CAA agitation, strengthened by the political opposition to the proposed NRC project, is built around the narrative that the Modi regime intended to widen its Hindu support base and disenfranchise many Muslims in the name of illegal migration just because the minority community was perceived to be anti-BJP in its outlook. The forces behind the protests did try to involve university students in a bid to widen the stir on the ground of 'suppression' of the government and later raised the fear of 'demand for documents' to make it an agitation of the poor and the weak as well.

The campaign against CAA has, however, progressively become focused again on alleged discrimination against Muslims by a 'pro-Hindu' government with the 'liberal' lobby and 'secularists' raking in issues of 'constitutionalism', 'majoritarianism' and 'intolerance' in their rhetoric to run down the regime. The latter continue to bracket NRC with CAA even though beyond CAA nothing had been spelt out by the government on the citizenship question – outside of the Supreme Court mandate of an Assam-specific NRC.

CAA does not touch the citizenship of anybody in India and on its own it does not alter the position of any community here – the argument that refugees from the adjoining Islamic countries, if granted citizenship, would add to India's economic burden cannot therefore be a community-specific concern. The protagonists of the anti-CAA stir are in reality objecting to the acknowledgement by the Modi government that the people of Indian origin – overwhelmingly Hindus — who, as a minority in erstwhile Pakistan, including what became Bangladesh later, faced persecution in that country as 'unequal' citizens under an Islamic regime, had to be accommodated by India. They are projecting CAA as a mark of assertion of 'nationalism' by India – almost deprecating 'nationalism' as a dirty word – and in the process presenting Indian Muslims, perhaps unwittingly, as a community that did not recognize the concept of Indian nationalism.

Many leaders of the minority community are, purely for their own politics, converting CAA into a 'Muslim issue' and thus dangerously bracketing the Muslim minority here with the fundamentalist regime of Pakistan. They should, in fact, be calling upon the Islamic Pakistan to declare that all its citizens had the same rights and status – like the case was in India. By not doing this they are only helping to goad the memory of the religion-based Partition of India. India is an established democratic state that is governed by a political executive elected on the principle of 'one man one vote' and it treats all citizens on the same footing in the spheres of both development and protection, thus establishing its secular credentials. The opposition can criticize the Modi government if this was not happening under the present regime but this question has no connection with CAA.

The protagonists of the anti-CAA agitation should not be misrepresenting the specific objective of the Parliamentary legislation – they should in any case wait for the outcome of the petitions filed in this regard in the Supreme Court. The opposition and the representatives of the Muslim minority have a legitimate right, of course, to demand that NRC, whenever brought into play, must lay down procedures that would be humane, free of exploitation and harassment by corrupt officials and reasonable about asking for documents.

The leaders behind the current protests are, however, crossing the limit of reasonableness in fomenting communal unrest about NRC which is still a policy under formulation and not a scheme ready for implementation. Some of the leaders of Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Muslim outfits have delivered speeches making implicit references to the 'Direct Action Day' called by the Muslim League in 1946 that had caused unprecedented communal violence at that time. This is perhaps why the slogan 'Jinnah wali Aazadi' was reportedly raised – though in a stray manner. There is need to invoke the full force of law against these offenders to prevent rise of militancy and Islamic 'radicalism' that would threaten internal security. The emergence of Indian Mujahideen in the Nineties may be recalled in this context.

Forces within and outside of the country are clearly getting in cohort to paint a picture of India as a nation that had ceased to be a functional democracy, become an authoritarian state and abandoned the rule of law. In a crooked presentation sections of media, domestic and foreign, are suggesting that a Hindu majority India was incapable of running a democracy and that any talk of 'nationalism' was antithetical to a multi-religious, multi-linguistic and regionally diverse country like India. In a free and fair election, even if more Hindus emerge successful by the logic of demography, it does not mean that the country was passing into 'majoritarianism' or a Hindu rule because the elected political executive that exercises the sovereign power under the Constitution does not carry any denominational stamp. It is clear that the opposition in India continues to believe that somehow consolidating the Muslim minority behind them in the face of a divided majority community, was a good political strategy. They should, however, realize that excessive aggression on behalf of the minority can generate a Hindu backlash that would undo that strategy for them.

The inflamed Hindu-Muslim divide created by anti-CAA agitation is a cause for deep concern. The bulk of the minority community here comprises people who were – like their other fellow citizens – preoccupied with livelihood work and it is unfortunate that a handful of leaders continue to emotionally exploit the minority for their personal political gains. This is the time for the law and order authorities to legally put down all those who aggravated communal passion through their speeches. We have strong laws to back this course of action.

There are anti-India lobbies outside – particularly in the West – that dislike the emergence of India as a country of robust 'nationalism' capable of standing up to its adversaries and running its bilateral relationships on the principle of mutual benefits for both economy and security. The scripted speech of George Soros, the bumptious billionaire of America, at Davos amply illustrates this. He regretted that 'nationalism far from being reversed made further headway' and went on to allege that 'the biggest and most frightening setback came in India where a democratically elected Narendra Modi is creating a Hindu nationalist state imposing punitive measures on Kashmir – a semiautonomous Muslim region and threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship'. This kind of condemnation of the world's largest democracy that had defeated an Emergency in the past, is as much a measure of his ignorance as it is of the power of lobbies – even if we give consideration to the reports that Soros was a Nazi regime survivor. Coming back to the anti-CAA stir, it bears repetition to mention that the potential for communal violence and radicalization that it is creating must be noted by all stakeholders of Indian democracy and dealt with firmly in terms of both law enforcement and political action.

(The writer is a former director of the Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed here are personal.)

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