The Citizenship Amendment Act was the straw that broke the camel's back
Opinion

The Citizenship Amendment Act was the straw that broke the camel's back

There are objective reasons to oppose the Act, and also a handful of subjective reasons induced by fear-mongering.

By Gaurav Lele

Published on :

Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarised Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, it's fair to assume that the CAA is not a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with the National Register of Citizens, as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes something of which to be wary.

As Amit Shah stated, the CAA will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees (non-Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants; he also referred to them as "termites" on one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).

It's clear to conclude that by refugees, he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India, as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with the intention of a better life. (When they do cross the Line of Control illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists.)

The Act

The instrumental part of the Act reads:

any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act

While this amendment to the Act is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing Act are also extremely problematic — most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular, the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi), which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction of the birthright naturalisation (jus soli) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under AB Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.

The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalisation by some other legal means. So, in short, with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for non-Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental non-Muslims but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu state.

Objective reasons to oppose the Act

  1. The CAA 2019 doesn’t include the phrase “persecuted minorities” which has been the first line of defense from the government when asked to explain the logic of the Act.

  2. The communities like the Ahmadiyyas and Hazaras are not protected in the Act. One can argue reasonably that Ahmadiyyas are as persecuted in Pakistan as Hindus or Christians. The insincere defence presented by the government to this question is utterly unconvincing (that the Indian state recognises these groups as Muslims). Additionally, no one can deny that atheists (apostates) and Shia are also considered anathema in some fundamentalist Sunni cultures (in Pakistan/ Bangladesh). Hence, a humanitarian Act would protect the persecuted among these too.

  3. Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindus, Christians and some Muslims) and Tibetan Buddhists are not included in the Act. Tibetan Buddhists who fled the Chinese communist state in the 1950s and '60s are not naturalised citizens of India.

  4. The cutoff date of December 31, 2014 appears arbitrary. If the aim of the Act is humanitarian, as it claims, why have a cutoff date in the first place? Surely these communities continue to be persecuted even after 2014.

  5. If the aim of the Act was truly humanitarian, naturalisation could have been accelerated for these communities without the Act. Till date, less than 32,000 people have taken refuge under this Act.

Subjective, fear-induced reasons to oppose the Act

  1. This Act is the last straw that has broken the metaphorical camel’s back. The five years of the first Modi government, which were seen as a highly polarised time, concluded with an even more polarising election campaign. A ticket to Sadhvi Pragya, divisive speeches by the BJP president and others, almost zero tickets given to Muslim candidates outside the Kashmir valley — all had pushed anti-BJP sentiment to a new high. The introduction of the CAA, the violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia, the liberal media outrage — all these pushed opponents of the Modi government and the BJP, including a considerable number of non-political Muslims, to see the CAA-NRC protests as their last stand.

  2. The opponents of the Act say the Act was meant as a bandage of the badly executed NRC in Assam. It's claimed that more than 50 percent of the 11 lakh exclusions from the Assam NRC (though the latest numbers might be different) are Hindus. The BJP can't afford to throw these under the bus because a large reason for the BJP's growing vote share in the Northeast is these migrants, while wanting to exclude the Bangladeshi Muslims from the franchise.

  3. Given the pathetic state of affairs in the Indian state, it's fair to assume that an exercise like the NRC will lead to significant collateral damage. Even if innocent Indians citizens (particularly Muslims) are not disenfranchised, they will surely will have to suffer the Kafkaesque bureaucracy. When dealing with populations of crores, even a error of 0.0001 percent will lead to thousands of personal tragedies. While it's logically coherent to assume no state could take such a rash decision, examples like demonetisation and the Covid lockdown migrant fiasco remind us of something else.

  4. There is a fear among some anti-Hindutva folks (who are largely misguided, in my opinion) that the CAA-NRC will be used perniciously by the state to disenfranchise all those who oppose the Hindutva ideology (particularly Dalits and Adivasis). Intelligent and articulate politicians like Prakash Ambedkar, public figures like Varun Grover, Javed Akhtar and many others are guilty of stoking these unsubstantiated fears. There has been an "ends justify the means" attack on the CAA-NRC from the Left, which I think is largely counterproductive.

  5. And last, but not least, the CAA-NRC is largely seen by a section of liberal India as the next Ram Mandir for the BJP. Shekhar Gupta makes this very point in this video.

  6. Many see this as an inflection point for India, as the conception of the homeland of Muslims was for Pakistan. The pettiness with which the BJP has handled the Aatish Taseer case has raised serious questions in the minds of many. It's not hysterical to assume that citizenship could be thus weaponised for petty politics.

Why do the CAA-NRC remain popular?

Image source: here

Source: The Times of India
Source: The Times of India
  1. The fear that the 10-year religious census evokes in non-Muslim communities, by and large, cannot be understated. This is true for Christians in the Northeast, Goa and Kerala too, not just Hindutva folks. Assam, West Bengal and Kerala have crossed the threshold of comfort for most non-Muslims. Kerala Christians are turning to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The logical explanation for the disproportionate growth of Muslims is long-winded and difficult to appreciate for most people who are already driven by fear. Unless we get a charismatic, Gandhi-like Left figure who can calm the fears, I am afraid the support for the exclusionary CAA-NRC will continue in the silent majority. The liberal side would do well to address these fears instead of dismissing them as the fears of bigots. It's important to distinguish between the fear at the rise of Muslims vs Christians. Most ordinary Hindus don’t care if Christians rise as a percentage of the population (including coercive conversions), no matter how much Hindutva-vadis scream about it. Hence despite being monotheistic, Christianity doesn’t evoke the same fear as Islam owing to a range of past and present problems.

  2. A significant section of Hindus, who ideologically support the RSS and the BJP, has long espoused an explicitly Hindu Rashtra (not state). This thought is by no means a majority even among Hindus, but a significant minority nonetheless.

  3. Indians by and large are under the charm and propaganda influence of the cult of Modi. When he says jump, they ask how high, no matter their previous or personal ideological beliefs.

Why do I oppose the NRC-CAA?

  1. I second all the objective critiques of the CAA mentioned above.

  2. I do not trust the BJP government under Modi, and especially Amit Shah, to be fair.

  3. The Kafkaesque state of India is likely to do more collateral damage than good with the NRC.

  4. I am extremely apprehensive of the dog-whistling and polarisation that is a natural outcome — an outcome perhaps even desired by the BJP — of pursuing the policy of CAA-NRC.

  5. If I had been born a Muslim, I would have been uncomfortable with the CAA.

  6. I grant the Hindutva folks the argument that most of the opposition to the CAA is due to the fact that the BJP brought it in. It's true, even though most of my opposition to the CAA stems from subjective unease rather than concrete or objective criticism.

  7. I feel the CAA dilutes India’s moral claim on Kashmir. I feel it's akin to accepting the two-nation theory.

The argument often made by Hindutva folks is that even if India becomes a Hindu Pakistan, it wouldn’t be even be half as bad as Pakistan:

  • largely due to fundamental differences between Hinduism and Islam;

  • India's large size and diversity;

  • an integrated service economy which will prevent the worst forms of majoritarianism, though I am a bit sceptical of this argument; and

  • the democratic spirit which has percolated to a certain extent in the franchise.

I grant some of these arguments but I am unwilling to take the risk.

The Dharmic Rashtra that I wouldn't oppose, or fully support

  • An imagination of India as the civilisation which is predominantly Hindu or Dharmic and hence plural is something I can support to a certain extent. If such a conception leads to a state like Great Britain or Denmark (where these countries are concretely Christian yet in application, there is often very negligible discrimination), it could help assuage some of the identity concerns of Hindus without necessarily ruffling other communities.

  • As a person who identifies as a Hindu atheist, I wouldn’t mind if Indian Islam and Christianity come under the wider Dharmic umbrella as other sects did before the British interfered (stable equilibrium). This might be wishful thinking nonetheless, and I am hence sceptical of the Hindutva project.

  • What would be more realistic to hope for is a neutral yet tolerant equilibrium where these monotheisms act as Zoroastrianism and Judaism in India. It can be argued that these two denominations are too tiny to be successful models of integration for large and particularly uncompromising monotheisms (neutral equilibrium).

  • Both these outcomes would be a marked positive over the current unstable and unequal equilibrium.

This crude analogy offers some insights into my understanding the interactions of various religions (for the lack of a better word) with the Dharmic/Indic world.
This crude analogy offers some insights into my understanding the interactions of various religions (for the lack of a better word) with the Dharmic/Indic world.

Postscript

I have not addressed the concerns of the people of the Northeast in this piece. None of the critique above justifies the apparently encouragement of illegal immigration done by the Congress and other Left parties over the years. The accusation that the Trinamool Congress has actively encouraged illegal immigration in West Bengal appears to have some truth to it. Whether the NRC is implemented in West Bengal or not, I foresee some bloody years ahead for the land of the Bhadraloks.

I must make it clear that I have no sympathy for violent demonstrations and roadblocks. If the opposition to the CAA is serious, time and energy would be better spent in traversing the width and length of the country, and starting a liberal movement rooted in ground realities. A mirror to the RSS, in fact. It takes long and hard work to bring about a desired change in politics and society — just ask the RSS.

The CAA passed through both houses and truly represents the will of the people. The road to annul it must begin from the people on the ground, and not courts or demonstrations. Any such intervention will be detrimental to the liberal case in the long run.

Also, the CAA does not grant asylum to oppressed minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It grants citizenship, including voting rights, above residence to those who crossed over before January 2015.

This piece was originally published on BrownPundits.com.

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