Citizenship Bill: Narendra Modi is fulfilling an old demand of RSS

Citizenship Bill: Narendra Modi is fulfilling an old demand of RSS

The Sangh feels the legislation will not only benefit Hindu refugees but also push its pet issue of ‘India’s changing demography’ centre stage.

By Arun Anand

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Editor’s note: The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, the media wing of the RSS.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been advocating for a Citizenship Amendment Bill since much before the Narendra Modi government introduced it in 2016. The Bill has again been cleared by the Union cabinet and is set to be introduced in the ongoing session of Parliament. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Bill will clear the Rajya Sabha given the governing Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies don’t have the majority in the Upper House.

One of the key reasons the RSS favour this legislation is its experience in the Northeast. Although a large number of RSS workers, known as pracharaks, have been operating in the northeastern states for the past seven decades, the Sangh boosted its activities in the region in the late 1970s, primarily to check religious conversions of tribals by Christian missionaries. The RSS was also deeply involved in the movement against “foreigners” in Assam. The agitation was led by the Assam Gana Parishad, which, following the Assam Accord of 1985, could have turned against the Hindus coming from other states as well as Bangladesh. But the RSS intervened to ensure that the Hindus were not targeted and the movement didn’t lose its direction.

The Sangh’s Northeast policy was shaped to a great extent by KS Sudarshan, who, having worked as a footsoldier of the RSS in the Northeast before becoming its head, had exhaustive knowledge of and a wide network in the region. In several of his speeches from 1979 onwards, Sudarshan highlighted the potential threat of the region’s changing demography. He also, to an extent, pioneered the Sangh’s key argument in this case: that the Hindus and other non-Muslim refugees from some of India’s neighbours should be dealt with as a special case.

Sudarshan’s approach was informed by how this matter had been dealt with by India’s Parliament and in public discourse since the 1950s. Politicians from across parties had favoured granting quicker citizenship to Hindu refugees seeking refuge in India, but the imposition of “secularism” by Indira Gandhi’s Congress in the 1970s had led to dilution of this consensual approach.

Sudarshan challenged this dilution and pushed the issue back onto the agenda. Starting in the early 1990s, the experiences shared by RSS pracharaks with its top brass indicated that the immigration of Bangladeshi Muslims to the Northeast was emerging as a major challenge. Yet, the RSS felt, the central and state governments were looking the other way because of the politics of “appeasement”. In fact, even the government led by the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee could take up the issue in only a limited manner given the party did not enjoy a majority in Parliament.

However, after the BJP won a popular mandate in May 2014, the path to bringing the Citizenship Bill was cleared. But the Modi government’s lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha thwarted its attempt in 2016 and the Bill couldn’t become the law, even though the BJP’s victory in the Assam election earlier that year meant the Centre had the full cooperation of the state government.

In 2019, after winning an even greater majority in the parliamentary election, the Modi government brought back the Bill, to go with the National Register for Citizens. The RSS backs both the NRC and the Citizenship Bill, arguing that changes to the demographic profile of strategically crucial northeastern states need to be addressed urgently. And both these measures would address this issue decisively.

The RSS also feels the Citizenship Amendment Bill would not only provide a reprieve to more than 10 million Hindus who have suffered persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but also put the public debate on the issue of “changing demography of India” centre stage. The Sangh’s concern about this issue can be gauged from the fact that it has passed resolutions in 1964, 1978, 1993, 1994, 2002 and 2003 on persecution of Hindus in India’s neighbouring countries. The 2003 resolution, passed by the RSS’s apex decision-making body, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, states, “ABPS wishes to remind the government, political, intellectual and social leadership of Bharat that these hapless Hindus of Bangladesh and Pakistan have not become victims of Islamic persecution out of their own volition. It is a consequence of the utterly tragic and irrational partition of our motherland in 1947. The Partition of Bharat was thrust upon the innocent Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh by the political leadership. Overnight their motherland became foreign to them. It is a travesty that these unfortunate Hindus are paying the price of their lives for the omissions and commissions of their past political masters.”

It goes on: “ABPS calls upon the Government of Bharat to revisit the entire issue of Hindu refugees and Hindu citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The government can’t shy away stating that it is an internal matter of the respective governments. The Nehru-Liaqat pact of 1950 had expressly stated that the minorities on both sides would be accorded full protection and citizenship rights. In Bharat, every Constitutional measure was invoked to accord not only protection and security but also many special provisions amounting to appeasement in favour of the so-called minorities. They are well-placed in our country today in terms of their demographic, economic, educational and social status. On the contrary, the Hindus of Bangladesh and Pakistan have been subjected to continuous persecution resulting in severe depletion of numbers, absolute poverty, human rights abuse and migration. The Hindu population of East and West Pakistan at the time of the Partition was 28% and 11%, respectively, whereas the Muslim population of what became truncated Bharat was 8%. Today, while the Muslim population in Bharat has risen to 14%, the Hindu population in Bangladesh has come down to less than 10% and in Pakistan to less than 2%.”

The RSS insists that it is the Indian state’s responsibility to challenge Pakistan and Bangladesh for violating the 1950 pact. “Disappearance of millions of Hindus can’t simply be brushed aside by invoking the sovereignty principle. These two countries need to be questioned on the continuous influx of Hindu refugees into India.” 

The Sangh, therefore, urges the Indian government to start “a new discourse on the question of the Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh”, for their living conditions are markedly different than of the Hindus in other countries. According to the RSS, the government must:

  • Pressure the governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan to ensure the security of the Hindus there.
  • Draft a National Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Policy to ensure dignified living conditions for all every Hindu refugee in India pending their return with safety and honour to their respective countries.
  • Demand compensation in an appropriate form from Bangladesh and Pakistan for the Hindus displaced from the two countries.
  • Demand international institutions such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Human Rights Council play a role in ensuring the safety and honour of the Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The RSS is compelled to state, the resolution concludes, that “the apathy of our government to the plight of these people is only due to the fact that they are Hindus”. It urges fellow countrymen to “come out strongly against this callous and cavalier attitude”. “The entire nation needs to stand by the right of security, honour and livelihood of each and every Hindu living in Pakistan and Bangladesh including those who have been pushed out of those countries and become refugees.”