West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and some other states in India’s North East were a simmering cauldron against compilation of a so-called National Register of Citizenship (NRC).
Oblivious of national and international furor, Indian House of People (lok sabha) and Council of States (rajya sabha) passed a controversial amendment,Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), to its Citizenship Act, 1955. It naturalises non-Muslim refugees as Indian citizens but excludes Muslims.
The amendment sparked country-wide protests. Different states welcomed or abhorred the refugees for different reasons. Assam had the grievance that the amendment violated Assam Accord that ended agitation over six years. Gory agitation took thousands of lives, disrupted the economy and toppled several governments. The Accord barred `illegal immigrants’ from entering the state without an Inner Line Permit. In India’s home minister’s parlance, immigrants are variously described as `persecuted non- Muslims’ or `Bangladeshi infiltrators’ or`termites on Indian economy’.
Tripura had concerns about tribals and non- tribals. Much of the migration into Tripura occurred before the creation of Bangladesh. The 1993 tripartite accord signed by the Government of India with the All Tripura Tribal Force that envisaged repatriation of all Bangladeshi nationals. They included those who had come to Tripura after March 25, 1971 and were not in possession of valid documents.
The chief ministers of five Opposition- ruled states, that is, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, opposed both the CAB and NRC. They declared that they would not implement the amendment in their states. Later, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik also joined their ranks. Communist-Party- of-India charismatic leader Kunhaiya Kumar (Bihar) warned `if you do not consider us citizens, we do not consider you the government’ (Indian Express December 17, 2019).
Stung by the brutal police action in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, students hit the streets in Chennai, Puducherry, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Varanasi, Kolkata and Guwahati in solidarity. Simultaneously, political leaders held rallies and sit-ins (dharnas) against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Mamta Bannerji, flamboyant chief minister of West Bengal, called the NRC an act of “deliberate destructiveness and political vendetta” of the BJP-RSS (Bharatya Janata Party- Rashtraya Swayem Sevak Sangh).She alleged that railway stations in West Bengal were set ablaze by ruling party’s hooligans. She remained unruffled by pro-BJP governor’s letters and tweets forbidding her to publish anti-NRC/CAA advertisements in the press. To governor’s chagrin, she herself participated in a mammoth rally and a seven–mile long three-day anti-CAA protest. She challenged the Centre to dare dismiss her state government.
The opposition, spearheaded by Congress, pilloried the iffy bill as a violation of the Constitutional provisions about `Freedom of Religion’ (Articles 25 to 28).These articles provide `all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice’. A five-bench Supreme Court judgment observed `It is clear from the constitutional scheme that it guarantees equality in the matter of religion to all individuals and groups irrespective of their faith emphasising that there is no religion of the State itself’. The Preamble to India’s Constitution, read with Articles 25 to 28 states `it is in this manner the concept of secularism embodied in the constitutional scheme as a creed adopted by the Indian people has to be understood while examining the constitutional validity of any legislation on the touchstone of the Constitution’.
Students could not remain silent spectators to malafide legislation. Volcanic protests erupted in several states including Assam, Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Students of Jamia Millia were brutally beaten. Police was accused of resorting disproportionate use of force. They entered the campus and thrashed all and sundry. They did not spare even female students, and even the prayer leader (imam) inside the campus mosque. The vice chancellor of Jamia Millia had to address a press conference to highlight police brutality. Videos of police highhandedness went viral. Even Oxford University students expressed solidarity with their Indian fellows.
Myopic view of consequences: The amendment embodies Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s rhetoric that no Hindu can be a “foreigner” in India. It ignores the broader perspective, emerging ramifications, particularly secular fabric of Indian democracy. It marks a historic departure from India’s disavowal of the Two Nation Theory that led to creation of Pakistan. The opposition regards the law as a dark chapter in India’s history, a vindication of Jinnah’s two-nation theory. It is a selective faith- based amnesty for a large segment of the 1.9 million people not included in the just- completed NRC in Assam. It excluded only Muslims from its privileged domain. Those excluded risked being declared `infiltrator’ and pushed back into Bangladesh, as India’s home minister had threatened.
Even in the absence of the new law, Hindus had been entering into India from the porous East Pakistan, now Bangladesh border. As such, Hindu population in Bangladesh dropped from 22 per cent of the total population in 1951 to 12 per cent in 1981, down to nine per cent in 2011.
The law does not promise Indian citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus. Yet it may quicken Hindu immigration to India with concomitant effects on India’s North East. Simultaneously, anti-Hindu sentiments might rise in Muslim Bangladesh. Life for affluent Hindus in Bangladesh may become harder. The have-nots may be eager to prowl upon properties and possessions of the Hindu minority. Antipathy to India in Bangladesh could rise pari passu with return of so-called Bengali-Muslim `infiltrators to Bangladesh from India. Simultaneously, some North Eastern States could become restless at hordes of Hindus fleeing from Bangladesh. Already, Assam is afire. Manipur is furious.
USA’s ennui: Even the independent bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed ennui on the citizenship amendment bill, while on the anvil, now enacted. According to a press note released by the Commission the bill amounted to a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and ran “contrary to the secular values enshrined in India’s Constitution” (Livemint, December 11, 2019). The agency had even forewarned of recommending US sanctions against India’s home minister Amit Shah, if the bill was enacted.
Fascism unmasked: Obviously, Modi followed Hitler and Mussolini’s fascist playbook dot for dot. Fear, terror and intimidation are favourite fascist tools. Modi wants to create fear so that his incompetence and dismal economic performance remained out of focus. Fascist ideology envisioned a regimented nation in grip of a totalitarian ruler. It extirpated everything inimical to monolithism. Fascists abhorred a freethinking civil society, political opponents, brave journalists, fearless academics and an independent judiciary.
A page from German and Italian history: Five-yearly censuses took place, 1871 onwards, in the newly founded united Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The 1930 census happened to be postponed owing to the Great Depression. Adolf Hitler began the census shortly after seizing power on April 12, 1933. Then, computers not being available, it was a huge manual enterprise. By the end of 1939, all orthodox Jews had been identified, pinpointed to their abodes, twice over. The purpose of Census was to first locate the Jews (67 million, or one per cent of the populace) and then “cleanse” them. The Citizenship and Denaturalisation Law of July 1933 empowered Nazi Reich to divest the undesirable” of citizenship. The Jews, even in professional services were outlawed, and pauperized by seizing their belongings. The object of both the 1933 and 1939 censuses was to isolate Jews both in the German heartland and the occupied territories before they were ghettoised, deported and eventually liquidated. Hitler’s Fascist comrade Benito Mussolini, also, introduced a racial census for both the Jews and the Roma people of Italy. The headcount enabled Mussolini to initiate xenophobic laws in 1938.
A Hindu rashtra (nation): A hundred years back, Savarkar scribbled these words on the walls of a prison, later published in 1923 in his book on Hindutva. “With India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holy land… bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture (Hindus) can dictate their terms to the whole world.” He envisioned inevitable civil war with Muslims. So, he exhorted Hindus to join the British Army, not to fight fascism, but to prepare for the eventuality. He declared Muslims and Christians could never be loyal citizens. Not all those who are residents are a part of the nation, and not all outside the territory are outside the nation’.
Unconstitutional: The religion-based amendment may be in keeping with Bharatya Janata Party’s manifesto, but it violates the Constitution. Indian parliament enacted the Citizenship in 1955. It did not lay down religion as criteria. But, the newly- enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 does. It amended certain provisions of the 1955 Act.
Manifesto not the Constitution: The BJP derived inspiration from its manifesto, not from provisions of India’s Constitution. Take the CAA. The BJP election manifesto vowed to enact a citizenship law “for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution”. Earlier, It revoked `special status’ (Article 370) for the disputed Jammu and Kashmir State. Bifurcating the State into two Union territories was in line with the BJP’s manifesto. It states, `we reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370’. Now, they have embarked upon building a sky- touching temple on the site of demolished Babri mosque. That too stood codified in BJP’s Sankalp Patra (manifesto). The manifesto states BJP would “explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution and make all necessary efforts to facilitate the expeditious construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya’. BJP may implement other dangerous promises in its manifesto like Pak-India NRC and revival of dead Sanskrit and other languages to create a Hindu nation (rashtraya): The excerpt on NRC declares, `There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in these areas on priority.
In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country’. The excerpt outlining language goals states `We will constitute a National Task Force to study the status of all written and spoken languages and dialects in India. We will also work towards revival and promotion of vulnerable or extinct dialects and languages’.
A J Malik