We,the people:- CAA and an interval of democracy

Anwesh Satpathy
Jan 13 · 5 min read

The events of the last few weeks have been tumultuous for India. The passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act marks a significant departure from the ruling regime’s previous way of functioning. It is true that BJP has made its intentions clear on contentious issues like Article 370 and the Ram Temple. However, for over half a century these issues were only used as agitprop. All of that changed when BJP was re-elected in 2019.

Narendra Modi’s regime is not inefficient. By not doing anything, an inefficient government will inevitably and unintentionally become a strong defender of the status quo. Modi’s regime is highly efficient and it is this efficiency that unnerves people. No, that’s not a defense of Mr. Modi. Let me frame it this way:- In Ram Guha’s words, Mr. Modi’s government is “malevolently” efficient. Nobody claims that Jack the Ripper,a serial killer who terrorized the city of London in 1880s, was an altruistic individual. But it can be argued that he was a successful criminal since he evaded arrest(For those with comprehension issues, let me explicitly state that there’s a difference between an analogy and a comparison).

In April 2019, the then BJP chief Amit Shah referred to illegal migrants from Bangladesh as “termites”. After coming to power, he explicitly stated that Rohingya refugees will not get citizenship in India. Mr. Shah, the home minister of the country, is more lenient towards Hindu, Buddhists, Sikh, Jain and Christian refugees. The Citizenship Amendment Act promises citizenship to refugees belonging to these religions who have fled to India before December 2014 after facing persecution in Pakistan,Bangladesh and Afghanistan. As a liberal, I welcome all attempts to help refugees. As a pragmatist, it is hard for me to ignore the cognitive dissonance in Mr. Shah’s positions.

I’d have been absolutely fine with this if the govt would’ve promised citizenship to the Tamils from Sri Lanka and the Rohingyas from Myanmar as well. Mr. Shah never fails to mention the sin of partition while defending this bill. The argument being that it is the moral duty of the Indian state to protect the minorities of Pakistan since Indian politicians agreed to divide the country in 1947 on religious basis. Why include Afghanistan, then? Besides, the home minister has simply got his facts wrong in this case. While defending the bill in the Parliament, he stated that the population of minorities in Pakistan declined from 23% in 1947 to 3.7% in 2011. Referring to Bangladesh, he stated that the population declined from 22% to 7.8% in 2011. I wasn’t able to find any reliable official report for this statistic. According to the first census of Pakistan(1951), non-Muslims comprised 3.44% of overall population in West Pakistan and 23.2% in East Pakistan(Bangladesh). The figure has fairly remained constant, with a slight decrease in 1961. The latest available stats on religious data are from 1998, in which non-Muslims form 3.7% of Pakistan’s population. As far as Bangladesh is concerned, there has been a significant decline in the population of Hindus(from roughly 22% in 1951 to 8.3% in 2011). Yes, minorities have faced severe persecution in Pakistan. However, Mr. Shah needs to do a little bit of homework. It’s his words against facts :)

The aftermath of CAA has been catastrophic for this government. People from across the country came to protest. It was as if “the soul of a nation, long suppressed found utterance”(To use Nehru’s words). Students are still protesting. Perhaps, this tide won’t stop until those in power listen. I support the right of the students to protest. Nevertheless, I disagree with many of the rhetoric being used.

Some of the slogans used in the protest carry explicit Islamic connotations(kalma). There are also various reports about extremist slogans(some of whom are unreliable). Dr. Shashi Tharoor spoke for many of us when he tweeted “Our fight against Hindutva Extremism should give no comfort to Islamist extremism either”. Slogans that have explicit religious connotations alienate those of other faiths. A common objection raised to this argument is that since the law excludes Muslims specifically, it is fine for them to seek comfort in their own identity. There are two problems with this argument. First, the protesters claim to be protesting for a secular India. If their aim is to bring everyone together, they must discard religious rhetoric lest they harm the movement itself. Second, the law doesn’t merely exclude Muslims. It also excludes atheists and apostates, who have been systematically oppressed by the Pakistani state. For instance, the irreligious blogger Ayaz Nizami is still in jail and could be given the death penalty.

In conclusion, it’d be hard for Mr. Modi to recover from the anger of the masses. The people understand and see through the polarization. The establishment would like you to believe that the protests are merely a conspiracy by the opposition. They are wrong. The protesters are citizens of this nation. Their demand must be heard. The establishment is under the calamitous delusion of grandeur that they have the power. The power resides with the masses. This might just be the Anna Hazare moment for this regime. These protests might be the beginning of the end for Narendra Modi.

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