The aim of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens collectively is to turn India’s Muslims into second-class citizens. They are indefensible in principle, infeasible in practice, and profoundly anti-national in consequences.
They operate not in a political vacuum but against the backdrop of the serial targeting of Muslims since 2014. The CAA is arbitrary in choice of countries of origin and discriminatory in selection of religious minorities. India’s humanitarianism would have won plaudits if all persecuted minorities were granted accelerated citizenship, for example Myanmar’s Rohingyas. They are not welcome in today’s India.
The state lacks the capacity to implement NRC efficiently. It could cost Rs 64,000 crore – two-thirds the entire education budget. In a country with patchy official documentation, it will involve long queues, extortion by petty officials, and appeal courts overloaded for years despite the existing mountainous backlog of cases. Millions who cannot prove Indian identity will become stateless, and will be held in detention centres raising even more logistical, financial, legal and ethical concerns.
CAA has pricked the constitutional conscience of students who have flooded the streets in defence of the Republic’s foundational ideals. Disillusioned about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of ‘acche din’, they demand ‘bure din wapas de do’. They’ve flummoxed BJP by appropriating the cloak of nationalism, waving the tiranga jhanda and singing Jana Gana Mana, but have been met with the full weight of the state’s jackboots.
Modi dog-whistled that protesters ‘can be identified by their clothes’ (hijabs, skullcaps). On cue, a police officer berated a protester: ‘Go to Pakistan’ – showing how deep the institutional rot is under Modi’s tacit tolerance of the cancer of religious bigotry. CM Yogi Adityanath issued the ominous threat: “Inse hum iska badla lenge”, oblivious to the irony that many senior BJP leaders, including Modi, cut their political teeth as young protesters in the Navnirman Movement. He received praise from BJP’s Bengal chief Dilip Ghosh for having shot protesters ‘like dogs’.
Muslims should take heart from the show of mass solidarity. Police brutality at Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, plus idle spectatorship while armed hoodlums thrashed JNU students and professors, have shocked and galvanised Indians across the country. At the festive protest in Shaheen Bagh, a 90-year old woman said: “My son’s name is Faizan, his father’s name is Imtiaz, his father’s name was Fakhruddin, his father’s name was Riyaz, his father’s name was Akbaruddin, let this Modi come and ask me if I belong here. I’ll show him.”
Modi has split Indians at home and the diaspora abroad, risking dismemberment by undermining social cohesion, political stability and economic recovery, while draining diplomatic capital. India’s global influence expanded with rapid economic growth, acknowledgment of its vibrant pluralism that had integrated Muslims into the Republic’s secular democracy, and the rise of the diaspora lobby. Now Modi has effectively repositioned India as a counterpoint to Pakistan just when Delhi had succeeded in distancing itself from the old lazy habit of outsiders hyphenating it with Islamabad. International investor confidence will plummet with rising religious tensions.
Good relations with India-friendly Bangladesh are a roadkill on the Hindutva highway. Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen vented: “They have many problems within their country. Let them fight among themselves.” Pakistan’s schadenfreude at India’s own goal is palpable. Modi has accomplished the remarkable feat of simultaneously upsetting the numerically strong Islamic and internationally influential Western countries. In the US, the bipartisan pro-India consensus is shattered with growing hostility in the Democrat-controlled House. Among the diaspora, only Islamophobes, hypocritically ensconced in the secular pluralism of Western countries, have voiced support.
Before the painstakingly curated goodwill, respect and admiration for India dissipates completely, Modi must urgently restore a functioning system of domestic political accommodation and reprioritise economic vitality. His choice is a managed strategic retreat from the CAA-NPR-NRC debacle or a complete rout as the situation serially spins out of control.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.