At a time when India is already grappling with critical issues, such as economic slowdown, vanishing jobs and agriculture distress, the government’s audacious decision to go ahead with the amendments in citizenship law demonstrate its utter lack of political sensibility. The Prime Minister Modi-led government, since its onset, is obstinately taking reckless decisions that are, in effect, threatening to reverse the progress the country has made since independence.

The recklessness borders on the government’s fantasies over the exhibition of a muscular approach to governance against an approach rooted in the established traits of the craft. The drive behind the display of such machismo by the government is to project itself as strong and capable of taking tough decisions. The real intention, however, is to disguise its latent motive of establishing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ where all those especially Muslims who do not coincide with their idea of the country will be subordinated or expelled. The alleged intention conspicuously manifested through the abrogation of Article 370, Triple Talaq Law, and now the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Why the government showed so much of urgency in such matters when the country is already struggling with several terrible problems that warrant immediate actions? The answer lies in the government’s endeavour in convincing not only its core supporters but also those who maintain strategic neutrality that it is a strong government raising the country’s stature globally; the reality, however, is just the opposite of this claim. India is facing admonition right from the UN to the friendly nations.

Systematic Erosion of the Ideals

India, as it is known outside, is a country which takes pride in its heterogeneity, exemplified by the catchphrase “unity in diversity”. It is an amalgam of diverse mix of religions, ethnicities, languages, cultures, and traditions. Such long-cherished ideals which have been held dear for much of India’s existence are facing grave threat of extinction by the systematic attack on its fundamental character. CAA is nothing but a formal attack on the foundations of the country’s secular edifice. It is threatening to shred apart the secular fabric and create unfathomable divide among Indians, particularly Hindus and Muslims.

This is in a way regressing back to old days of partition and poking those wounds to come alive. While divided societies around the world reconcile their differences and strife towards living together again, the Indian government is deliberately making rifts in the minds of its citizens. Hindus and Muslims, who have been living peacefully despite some occasional scuffles, will now be made to see each other with deep suspicion.

Why CAA is discriminatory?

Through the amendment, a small change has been made in the country’s existing citizenship law. The amended law that seeks to protect the persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh explicitly mentions Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis leaving out the Muslims, which makes it discriminatory. As a result instant questions were raised over nature of the amendments. Prima facie the logic of making such an amendment is rooted in arbitrariness rather than rational thinking. Subsequently the government drew a lot of flak from different quarters including the legal and constitutional experts.

CAA is in complete contradiction to Articles 14 & 15 of the Indian Constitution. Article 14 guarantees “equality before the law….and Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place.” Similarly, Article 15 also talks about discrimination – “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” Thus, these fundamental principles form the pillars of the constitutions which have been inflicted a body blow by the amendments.

Latest changes in the citizenship law along with the NRC make a dangerous cocktail that allegedly threatens the life and liberty of Muslims. On the one hand, the government is planning to prepare a countrywide NRC while on the other it is aiming at implementing CAA throughout India. The combined application of NRC and CAA will put a stranglehold grip on the Muslims. The question is how?

NRC is an exercise intended to create a databank of Indian citizens. That means the citizens will have to prove their citizenship all over again. The condition laid by the government, however, is the troubling part for all the citizens. Since the NRC exercise has been done in Assam only till today where the government has sought old documents or documents that establish Indian lineage, the nature of such an exercise in the rest of India is yet to be determined. In the case of Assam, the cut-off date for such documents was 24th March 1971.

Thus, those who have been living in Assam or have come before the aforesaid date will be deemed genuine citizens. After the NRC exercise, 1.9 million people were left out of the final NRC list in the absence of sufficient documentary evidence. Now through CAA, the government will accommodate only those people, mostly Bengali Hindus, who have been left out of the NRC list in Assam leaving out the Muslims who will face cases in foreign tribunals. This has riled up Muslims as well as people in the Northeast.

In the Northeast particularly in Assam, people were demanding NRC for identification of illegal immigrants in their states. But the new law will accommodate those left out from the NRC list that has left Assam and other parts of Northeast India seething in anger. Because these states were demanding a curb on illegal migration mainly from Bangladesh, they only want to accommodate those who have come before 24th March 1971 in consonance with the Assam Accord. For the Muslims, the contentious aspect is that genuine Indians whose forefathers have been living in India for centuries are at the risk of being stripped of their citizenship owing to lack of their ability to produce sufficient documentary evidence. For a good chunk of the Muslims or for that matter large part of the population, producing documents with old records of citizenship would be extremely difficult. Once the NRC exercise is done in the rest of India, the Muslims fear that they may be left out of the list and would be eventually declared stateless because they may not be eligible to apply for citizenship as other communities are in accordance with the provisions in CAA.

Traversing the Old Path

A series of decisions that this government has taken in the last few years is truly detrimental to India’s health. A thriving democracy painstakingly built post-independence seems to be coming to a screeching halt. States across the world endeavour to make forward leap; but India is at the cusp of getting a major push back towards regression owing to the insolence of the government’s muscular approach devoid of reason and rationality.

The country has witnessed organized brutalities against Muslims and Dalits in the recent past albeit these incidents have not threatened to tear the country apart. However, decisions like demonetisation, abrogation of Article 370, and now CAA, are truly ill-conceived and arbitrary. Post-demonetisation, the ruling party kept changing the goal posts and often gave contradictory motives. Similar is the case with reasons ascribed to the abrogation of Article 370: justification such as the abrogation of Article 370 has unified the country not only seems contradictory but ludicrous when compared with the government’s continued patronage to Article 371 that grants special status to North-eastern states.

Ever since the current political dispensation assumed power, it is unremittingly taking decisions that are threatening to overturn the progresses India has made. Decisions whether it was demonetisation, abrogation of Article 370, and now, CAA exhibit an utter lack of political and economic sensibility. Through their decision-making that borders more on arbitrariness than judicious application of concrete planning, Prime Minister Modi and his second-in command, Amit Shah, have inflicted a body blow not only to the economic and political superstructure but to the overall peace and stability of the country.

Several countries across Asia and Africa are in acute misery because of the artificial social divisions created by ambitious politicians. Now those differences are extremely complicated to reconcile. In Ethiopia, where I am currently teaching in a university, experience the same politically-engineered regional divisions which the people here find tremendously complicated to reverse. The stiffness in their thinking and extent of hate could easily be comprehended when one engages in a political conversation with the locals here. This is the detrimental effect of decades of polarisation by politicians in the past that the present generation is cursed to live with. In India, a similar project is underway to push the society towards regressive times through conscious attempts of creating sectarian divide.

Dr Md Intekhab Alam Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Aksum University, Ethiopia.


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