K B Jandial
After a hat-trick of resounding successes of bold and historic decisions- triple talaq, Article 370 and Ram Janambhoomi, Modi Govt’s latest move on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has touched hornets’ nest. It stoked wide spread violence, student unrest and loss of life in several parts of the country. What went wrong this time? Modi- Shah duo who is known for strategizing in such a way that their aftermath didn’t street protests. This time, the Congress led opposition has grabbed the opportunity and launched a full-fledged agitation against it. PM Modi has been forced to declare that NRC is not coming (soon) and it has not even been discussed in the Govt. The powerful Home Minister had taunted opposition in the Parliament that while there is no linkage between NRC and CAA but NRC would definitely come in India.
Notwithstanding violence and protests, a very large population supports the amended law that seeks to do justice with the illegal immigrants (minorities) who had fled back to India after persecution on religious basis in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. People are at loss to comprehend its urgency even when the situation in Kashmir on “abrogation” of Article 370 is yet to be ‘normalised full’. There are no important elections on the anvil barring Jharkhand which BJP lost convincingly. Could it have been delayed?
The immediate pressure to legislate this law probably comes from the declaration of 19 lakh persons as “non-Indian” by Supreme Court monitored NRC on 31 August this year. It had more Hindus than Bengali Muslims. This has huge political implications for the ruling BJP.
Incidentally, it was in BJP ruled Assam where CAA lit the fire immediately after its passage which first spread to North-East States and then to some other parts of the country. There are some unanswered questions. Why couldn’t BJP prevent violence in Assam in the first place? Why the local leadership was not sensitized on proposed legislation? Why was British- era law, Inner Line Permit (ILP) not extended to Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya before enacting the amendment which was done after violence?
Under ILP system, people from rest of India are not allowed to enter the area except with special permit. Ostensibly, it was to monitor the movement of outsiders but in real term, it was meant to prevent sale of land to outsiders, quite akin to J&K’s abolished State Subject Law with a difference that in Assam, special permission can be sought but in J&K it was not allowed even though the original Maharaja’s order did prescribe so.
With recent electoral debacle Jharkhand, fifth in a year, and eye on the next elections in New Delhi and West Bengal, BJP has to make some course corrections in CAA-NRC law. PM Modi’s categorical assertion in his speech at the public rally at Delhi is perhaps the first indication of the ruling party’s changing strategy on it. The slowdown of economy, growing unemployment and sliding industrial production & exports have already provided an opportunity to opposition parties to club all issues including Art 370 to target Modi. Amit Shah’s invincibility and charisma of PM Modi is on slide.
Coming to CAA, how is it anti-Muslims? It is about inclusion and not exclusion. It is not meant to take away anyone’s citizenship, but to confer citizenship on persecuted minorities. It has no linkage with Indian Muslims or any other citizen. The Act will ease the lives of refugees of Partition and provide them a dignified life by allowing them access to the government’s welfare schemes. But the Opposition has succeeded in creating scare among Muslims clubbing it with NRC which is sustaining the protests.
Modi Govt doesn’t believe status-quo and keen to implement its agenda on which it had got massive mandate. It has a democratic right to do so by following prescribed democratic processes. Intriguingly, all these laws were originally enacted by the Congress Govt and BJP is using these to implement its agenda by suitably amending these.
With projection as anti-Muslim Act, India’s relations with some friendly nations in Middle East and South Asia have been impacted. Leave aside Pakistan which is always on lookout for opportunities to corner India diplomatically; other friendly Islamic nations are too resentful on this move. Bangladesh, the friendliest neighbour, has sent a strong message by canceling visit of two Ministers as Sheikh Hasina regime itself facing criticism and pressure from Pak supported radicals. Afghanistan too contested Indian view of persecution of minorities, saying nothing of the sort happened after Taliban Govt. Relations with Gulf countries which PM Modi has transformed, too are under strain. While India need not be apologetic on its internal democratic process, it does pose a challenge to EAM.
Whereas Indian Constitution provides a secular nation, the Constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for Islamic State. It is a fact that minorities in East and West Pakistan (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian) had undergone or feared persecution because of their religion and some of them fled to India, with or without valid documents, and sought shelter and continued to stay till date.
The Constituent Assembly had set 19 July, 1948 a date for citizens to choose between India and Pakistan but the trans-border migration of millions of people took place with partition of India on the basis of two-nation theory. Despite Nehru-Liaquat Pact which committed protection of their religious minorities by India and Pakistan, religious minorities were systematically driven out of East Pakistan and their exodus didn’t happen in one go unlike from West Pakistan. A large number of refugees who crossed over to India following the Pakistani army crackdown in March 1971 never returned after the birth of Bangladesh.
These persons are regarded as illegal immigrants and under the existing provisions ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship under section 5 or section 6 of the Act. However, the Government exempted them in 2015 and 2016 from the penal consequences and also made eligible for Long Term Visa (LTV) to facilitate their stay in India. Now, they are made eligible for Indian Citizenship with cut of date of 31.12.2014 by amending the Citizenship Act of 1955 (amended in 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015).
Concern for the inhuman plight of these minorities had been aired by many including Pt Nehru and Manmohan Singh but nothing was expressed on the plight for the majority in Pakistan. On November 15, 1950, Pt Nehru while speaking in Parliament, agreed with Shyma Prasad Mookherje on the pathetic conditions of displaced persons from Pakistan, and had said, “there is no doubt, of course, that people who have come to India, those displaced persons who stay in India, are bound to have citizenship. If the law is inadequate, the law should be changed”. Manmohan Singh as Leader of the Opposition during his speech on President’s Address in Rajya Sabha on December 18, 2003, had pleaded for a liberal approach towards religiously persecuted refugees (Hindus). Ashok Gehlot had, as CM of Rajasthan, written to then HM Chidambaram about poor plight of Hindus& Sikh refugees settled in Rajasthan. Assam CM Tarun Gogoi too had pleaded with PM Manmohan Singh, on April 20, 2012 for refugees fled from Pakistan due to religious persecution. CPM leader Prakash Karat too sent a memorandum on it to PM in May 2012. But when Modi exhibited courage and made a law on it the same parties who shed tears for them are on warpath on it.
Muslims constitute majority, not minority in these countries. Majority and minority constitute two separate classes and can be treated separately under Article 14 of the Constitution and those who are passing judgment on the Amendment Act should wait for legal pronouncement by the Apex Court. While critics hold the view that both non-Muslims & Muslims are illegal immigrants and hence qualify for equality before law and equal protection of law under Article 14 of the Constitution, the Govt seeks to differentiate them on the ground the parent States have State religion and the non-Muslim immigrants were persecuted for their religious belief. And moreover, Article 14 allows a classification that is founded on an intelligible differentia provided differentia has a direct nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question. This simply means a separate class of people can be created (non-Muslim immigrants in this case) by an enabling law.
Moreover, any Muslim persecuted on political ground or otherwise and comes to India is entitled to seek asylum or citizenship by naturalisation. Following this procedure, Modi Govt granted citizenship to 2,738 Afghani and Pakistani nationals during 2016-2019.
No firm data of potential beneficiaries has been indicated by the Govt or the critics. The Report of Joint Committee on the Citizen (Amendment) Bill -2016 presented in the Parliament in January 2019 quoted IB’s report on immediate beneficiaries. It said that 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities from these three countries, claiming religious persecution had sought Indian Citizenship. Of these, 25,447 were Hindus, 5807 Sikhs’ 55 Christians, 2 Parsis and 2 Buddhists. They had LTVs.
Politically, the BJP has always faced the charge of discriminating Muslims but it thrived on it as it claims to follows Hindutva of appeasement or discrimination to none including Muslims and other minorities. BJP is dismissing all criticism on CAA as politically motivated and accuses Congress and others of creating fear in the minds of the minorities. Instigating minorities is not good for democracy and communal harmony.
While violence on CAA has yet to die down, another controversy has erupted on the announced National Population Register (NPR) along with census operation. Congress had launched it in 2011 as “historic exercise” but today it is opposing it. Congress accuses Modi Govt of clandestinely bringing NRC through NPR and BJP hitting back accusing Congress of double talk having itself started it. The objective of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident and doesn’t require any documents to prove citizenship that would be used for delivery of services and subsidies. Congress which initiated this exercise to collect data of residents is creating suspicion about intention of Modi Govt now, saying that Modi has trust deficit. Strange, Modi who has got absolute majority in this year’s Lok Sabha election is being projected as leader with trust deficit!
What interest the opposition has in preventing identification of illegal infiltrators and immigrants and subsequent safe deportation to their parent countries under a pact? Why they love those who chose to accept theocratic State? Whether their love for them is political or it is their hatred for Modi who gave respect to majority. All those accusing Modi of loss of jobs are “dying” for these illegally living immigrants in India and eating our share. There is a poser to them -does India has so much of resources or jobs to open floodgate for everyone from Pakistan and Bangladesh to come and settle here. If today’s India is “communal” or “intolerant”, as many of the protesting intellectuals and parties have been advocating it, then why Pakistanis and Bangladeshi friends settle here and suffer? And how current violent protests and ideological hatred against CAA and Modi, burning of public property and making some of the universities battle fields would help them? As Modi is not known for retracting his moves, why not wait for judicial verdict? Alternatively, wait for the next Lok Sabha elections and if the opposition wins, undo it. But stop violence that may take more lives; good that UTs of J&K and Ladakh have shown maturity and eschewed violence.