Given the push for an agenda of ‘Hindutva’ by the current ruling BJP, the fear of being disfranchise among the Muslim community has grown. Many saw this as a beginning of a journey to new India, entering into a new time wharf that may take the country back to future … write Buddhdev Pandya MBE
The pre-Christmas period saw eruption of protests across India against the introduction of an amendment to the Citizen Amendment Act by the BJP government to build a nationwide National Register of Citizenship. The amendment was criticised for facilitating a selected religious group such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others who are minorities in neighbouring countries – but excluding the Muslims. Arguing, it to be in breach of the secular spirit of the Constitution.
Given the push for an agenda of ‘Hindutva’ by the current ruling BJP, the fear of being disfranchise among the Muslim community has grown. Many saw this as a beginning of a journey to new India, entering into a new time wharf that may take the country back to future!
Addressing an election rally in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that there had been no discussions about the Citizenship – creating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) since the time his government was elected. This was a direct contradiction to the position of the Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah who has been repeatedly asserting, on the floor of the House that his government was determined to introduce a national NRC in the country.
India has defined the issue of Citizenship in the Citizen Act 1955 of the Indian Constitution. The Part II; Articles 5-11 says, “ all the people that were resident in India at the commencement of the Constitution were citizens of India as well as people born in India.” The Act 1955 was amended in 1986 which restricted citizenship by birth to require that at least one parent had to be an Indian citizen- and, in again in 1992. The 2003 amendment further restricted by requiring that a parent could not be an illegal immigrant. Also there were amendments in 2005, and 2015. It was in 2003, the amendment actually mandated the Government of India to construct a National Register of Citizens. It is wrong to assume that the protests and objections were aimed at the act or previous amendments.
Originally what was designed to pluck out illegal migrants proved to be a disaster for over two million people who were left out the NRC list of 2019 for Assam, north-east India. It shocked everyone as a large number of Hindus were excluded causing an uproar among many BJP leaders in the region. The list contained 31 million names out of 33 million population; it had left out about 1.9 million of whom 0.5 million were Bengali Hindus, 0.7 million were Muslims and the rest appeared to be local Hindus. It sent a panic signals as those many who may have been living for generation in India were put in danger of being referred to the detention centres or deported to the -no man’s’ land as destitute.
The 2019 BJP amendment Bill received it final assent from the President of India to become a law, awaiting formal notification. The real epicentre of the anger seemed to be the BJP’s push for this amendment that overtly facilitates selected religious group such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others who are minorities in neighbouring countries – but not to Muslims. It also makes easier for the persecuted selected non-Muslim minorities from the neighbouring Muslim-majority countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan only. It meant that if the NRC was to apply nationwide, potentially, any non-Muslim persons can be accommodated or easily consumed into being offered Citizenship, while the Muslims without any documents would be in danger of being declared illegal migrants. And most likely to be at the risk of becoming destitute in their own country.
The process in Assam has costed an estimated Rs 19,000 for every applicant for just running around to the Register Tribunal alone. Baring the intolerable burden of demands the cost of bribery to the officials and agents, a malice that we know exists, would have crippled many of the very poor families and those who may have lost everything in floods. It has left a spade of in fear for their future not knowing when they would be detained!
The BJPs’ manifesto has promised to introduce NRC throughout the country. Yet, many BJP leaders in Assam are now critical of the process after the recent experience. But the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, insists to deport illegal and immigrants, describing them as “termites”. Aakar Patel, the head of Amnesty International India, warned, “Assam is on the brink of a crisis, many would lose their nationality as well as liberty and a large group of people would see erosion of their basic rights”. It is becoming a self-created humanitarian crisis with many becoming stateless with options to fill in the detention camps or face deportation.
Demonstrations are not new in India. The recent stream of protests, no doubt, can be attributed to police heavy handedness; a strategic political miscalculation. In the midst of impending local State elections the images of women in Islamic dress and the name Jamia Millia Islamia University were bad enough as ‘dog’s whistle’, the journalists could not avoid seeing clips where the police were seen to be systematically damaging private property.
It was an indefensible conduct. It smacks at the heart of ethics of ‘good governance’. No longer contained in a locality of Muslims or Communists domains, the anger has snowballed and spread across in many states against the government. Many Chief Ministers, including in the the BJP states, have turned against it as the world saw brutal images of the Indian police attacking students and beating them mercilessly.
The visuals of horrific displays of police insensitivity also included a student being protected by young women students from the baton blows of the police. Despite claims and counter claims, the police had entered University Camps that ensued chaos, fear and injuries. Even a clergy and securing of the local mosque were beaten up. For the students protesting over the hiked intolerable tuition fees, it was a ‘red-rag’ to the bull’. More ordinary citizens joined in as the story spread in the media. Then the usual follow-up by criminals joined in to fray.
Contrary to the denial by the Prime Minister the fact is that there are already several detention facilities are being built in Assam’s, and reportedly plans for an additional 10 camps for these migrants across the country. It aided spreading suspicions and fear. Naturally, it was interpreted as a panic reaction to protect the large number of Hindus, left out in the register and an attempt to disfranchise the Muslims of India; a part of the drive for the Hindutva Agenda. A shiver of unimaginable destabilising impact it may cause!
Regardless of the size of protests and supports, and damage limitation exercises, the ‘cat is out of the bag’ and has prowled all over the world to leave paw-scratch-marks that would remind us the distrust and polarisation that the amendment has generated. But then, a mandate was given to rebuild India with a new vision of Hindutva- a Ram Rajya!