NRC and Citizenship Amendment: is it only about winning elections?

AssamNRC PTI660

After the accomplishment of Mandir mission and revocation of special status given to Jammu and Kashmir, the two long cherished dreams of Hindu nationalism at least for the last two decades, the BJP is now heading to another elephantine mission, the redefining of citizenship regime of the country. It is done through two routes: one, the citizenship amendment bill that would give citizenship to the persecuted minorities of selected neighbourhood; and the other, the implementation of National Registry of Citizenship at national level to weed out the “infiltrators” from the land.

One could safely say that the new moves are the demand driven strategic decision as the BJP needs new communal narratives to hide its vulnerabilities in governance and economy as the polarizing issues, that the party has been using so far, has exhausted with the realization of temple at Ayodhya and with the “complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir” with the union of India. This strand of arguments cannot outrightly be refuted as baseless, but are only a part of the larger story. It is high time to realize that the power is not an end in itself, but only a mean, to BJP.

There is no need of Socratic vision to understand the fact that the remote control of the BJP is with the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS); and even the party leaders would not deny that hard reality. After a long reluctance towards statism, the RSS formed its political wing Jana Sangh- the predecessor of BJP- only when it realized the need of a political outfit to accomplish the larger goal.

RSS is, primarily, a social force that makes use of political power for transforming the society. Its philosophy has always imbibed the spirit of transformation from below, and there were times when some Sangh leaders expressed apprehensions over the dangers of forming political parties that is generally perceived as intoxicating people with power. Although the benefit of transformation from above, by capturing state institutions, was later on appreciated by the organization, the Sangh has never superseded anything above its goal of transforming Indian society.

For RSS, the power makes its works easy, and the power is desirable as long as it contributes into the larger missions. For such a society centric organization, surviving without power is not a difficult task as long as its activities are not challenged by the ruling dispensations. Following that logic, RSS may not mind rule of a party like Congress that would not fundamentally hinder its activities. The organization may even choose a situation of sacrificing political power for the purpose of protecting its long term ideological interests.

Saffron in Power

Generally, political parties go to any extend to capture and sustain power. BJP also had used various such methods that range from communalism to casteism, to regionalism, to branding of leaders, to spreading of fake news, to poaching of opposition leaders. The party was cleverer in making use of clumsy gimmicks than any other political parties, which are limited to capture of political power.

The question that begs to be asked, can all activities of the Hindu nationalist party at the government be clubbed into the category of manoeuvring for sustaining power? Here comes the utility of understanding the relation between BJP and its mother organization, RSS. This would shed light on to the fact that there are certain long term goals, beyond mere sustenance of power, in the activities of Saffron party.

Saffron in politics cannot be analysed by the same framework that are generally used to understand the working of other political parties. From the activities of BJP in past years, one can objectively say that the party doesn’t do everything for votes, there are certain things it does only because it believe in them.

To illustrate, Ayodhya conflict and article 370 have, no doubt, well served the electoral campaign purpose of the BJP in past years, and without such sensitive issues, a party with mere two parliament seats in 1980s could not have grabbed more than 300 seats in 2019. But these two issues were also integral part of the Sangh ideology: masculine Hindu subordinating religious minorities; and strong unitary state, where differences will be erased. These later stated ideological accomplishment of the Sangh cannot be drowned in the over emphasis of electoral victory that BJP achieved with these sensitive issues.

Citizenship and Saffron Ideology

The significance of introducing changes in citizenship law of the land is that the idea of citizenship is fundamentally based on the idea of exclusion that disqualify the category of non-citizens from availing the benefit provided by the state, and the Hindu nationalism believes in regressive or racial theory of citizenship that excludes all those who do not have fatherland in Bharat, as opposed to the wisdom of constituent assembly of India, which settled on the principle of jus soli or birth based citizenship.

If the proposed Citizenship amendment bill 2019 is passed, it would be a landmark achievement to RSS, in virtually legitimizing one of its core ideologies- citizenship based on religion or ethnicity. A national NRC coupled with citizenship amendment bill sends the message that all citizens, except Muslims, who fail to produce required documents, would be presumed as persecuted refugees eligible for citizenship. This is the most effective way of realizing the Sanhgh’s ideology of making Muslims as second class citizens.

The BJP knows, than anyone, that a national NRC would not be like an issue like Ayodhya or article 370, as it effectively puts the burden of proof on the entire citizens, irrespective of religion. However, the ideological accomplishment of Hindu Rashtra would overweigh the potential political risk. That aspect needs to bother us more.

Shahul Hameed Mattumannil is the PhD candidate at the Centre for Political Studies (CPS), JNU. He is presently working on the politics of accommodation in Kerala.

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