CAA Protests: India at the crossroads

Patricia Mukhim

In the lifetime of a nation comes a moment when the citizen flounders. What is happening around us at this time is a chaos that is calculated to stun people into silence. The CAA was passed with alacrity and the next thing is that we are told a nationwide NRC too would be in the pipeline. Spontaneous protests by the youth of the country against the CAA is sadly being termed “opposition sponsored.” But where is the Opposition? Opposition parties in this country have failed us. They have lost their moral compasses because in their time they too did things that are not exactly politically virtuous. What happened in JNU on January 5 shocks the conscience of the nation; or at least a section of it that believes in liberal ideas of democracy.  Worse is that the Delhi Police functioning under the direction of the Union Home Ministry was complicit.  It’s a sad day that an institution of higher learning known for its intellectual resource is now left to defend its soul. From a battle field of ideas JNU is transformed into a battleground of physical assaults and bloody fights.

Where did all this belligerence and combativeness spring from? A university is known for its brains; now we have forces from outside it flexing their brawns. Today anyone who denounces the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is considered an anti-national. Why? Because we are expected to be kind to Hindus persecuted in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The NDA Government has not defined where these new citizens will be settled. Hence the fear of those states bordering Bangladesh and Pakistan is that all the new citizens will be settled in their already very populated land with little or no resources even for those already settled therein. The fear of the North Eastern states cannot be wished away by asking questions such as : how can anyone (non-tribal) settle in tribal states that already have strict land laws and do not allow non-tribals to buy land – which is a great disincentive for a proposed settler. The fear today is that these laws that protected us now could be done away with tomorrow with the passage of the Uniform Civil Code. Then what happens to the tribes, their cultures and their identities? Many argue: what’s the big deal about identity? We are all Indians, aren’t we? This argument is vacuous and comes from North-Easterners settled in Delhi and elsewhere and who only come home to the region for a visit. Thos who live here, feel their heartbeats in this motherland and dread the idea of becoming strangers in their homeland. That’s the reason for the fear! Does this make sense to the nationalist?  I am afraid it doesn’t.

Today, Home Minister, Amit Shah is making one provocative statement after the other. Between him and the Prime Minister they have decided to push the implementation of the CAA across the nation. Shah has made it amply clear that the Modi Government will brook no opposition to this project. However, we did not arrive at this juncture by mistake. Assam elected the BJP and other states are working in tandem with it in running their governments. As a political party the BJP has shown incredible tenacity in fulfilling its poll promises one by one. The Party believes that if it has been voted to power on the basis of those promises which were widely circulated vide its manifesto then it goes without saying that those must be vigorously pursued. The problem is that the BJP won only 37.36% of the votes totalling 303 seats. The BJP and allies together won 353 seats which is 45% of the 60.37 crore votes that were polled. This means that over 55 % of voters were either split between different political parties that have not formed a united opposition front or they have voted for none of the candidates. This is the travesty of democracy. The Party or alliance partners with the single largest majority get to form the government irrespective of the percentage of votes polled. That Government then implements its political agenda without calling for a national debate. Perhaps a time has come for India’s polity to go for a referendum on a political issue of such far reaching consequences such as the CAA which actually discredits the secular nature of the Indian Constitution by using religion as a criterion for granting Indian citizenship.

Ironically, the loss suffered by the BJP in several states has failed to jerk its logical brain. This comes from sheer arrogance of power which makes the BJP feel invincible. Hence Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister, Amit Shah are behaving like two dictators running the NDA Government. Other ministers seem to make little sense. They are only clapping from the sidelines and appearing on TV studious to spill out their barbs.

The nation-wide protests against the implementation of the CAA (followed by the NRC) has put the majority of Indians on notice. Those taking a stand are termed anti-nationals, urban naxals and such other pejorative phrases. Such blatant disregard for public opinion and public protests that have now sustained for a month should have made the BJP a little humble and climb off its high horses. Instead the BJP led by two of its politically brawny duo seems determined to quash public opinion and voices of dissent. Adding to this culture of impunity is the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath whose unabashed commitment towards the Hindutva project is a threat to the diversity of India. He has unleashed a reign of terror to silence the protestors in UP and is using the police force for this malevolent objective.

The present protests are a battle to reclaim India’s soul. The BJP instead has taken it as a challenge to its objective of furthering the cause of Hindutva. It is unfortunate that pro-BJP intellectuals are accusing those against the CAA as being ignorant, brainwashed socialists. Not all the people on the streets today are ideological bigots. Many more are out there because they believe in the sanctity of the Indian Constitution, above all. Political egotism will ultimately be defeated by the very process of democracy. No political party can take the voters for granted for too long.

Meanwhile the countrywide protests continue to draw more citizens. In Meghalaya, the JNU alumni association is calling for a protest on January 8 and has caricatured Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah with masked faces and the slogan is “Iron Will VS Iron Rods.” The JNU fracas was so unnecessary but the Hindutva bosses had to flex their muscles. Social media says many of the vehicles parked outside the JNU campus had UP registration numbers. This sounds credible since UP is ruled by another bigot in saffron robes who is not used to the culture of dissent. Yogi Adityanath has used the police force of his state to silence dissent in the Aligarh Muslim University and other academic spaces. This entire design to push through the CAA irrespective of public antagonism to it, is an indication that more such laws would follow in the future. The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) might be the next action plan of the Modi-Shah combine, even as other ministers clap from the sidelines. If that happens then perhaps even Sunday might no longer be considered sacrosanct.

The question then is: how far are Modi and Shah willing to dig in their heels to fulfil the agenda chalked out by the likes of Veer Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar and will India continue to remain one nation. Let’s not forget that the quest for uniformity is what has resulted in the balkanisation of the USSR and other countries. India is too diverse a nation to conform to one code, one language, one religion, one culture. It is actually many nations that have come together because of the idea of secularism and respect for multiple cultures and faiths. To undo this is to trash the idea of India as envisaged by its founding fathers.

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