Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarized Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, its fair to assume that CAA is not a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with National Register of Citizens (NRC) as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes some to be vary of.
As Amit Shah stated, CAB(A) will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees(non Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants – he also referred to them as termites at one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).
Its clear to conclude that by refugees – he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with an intention a better life. (When they do cross the LOC illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists)
The instrumental part of the act reads
any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act
While this amendment to the ACT is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing ACT are also extremely problematic – most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi) – which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction with the Birthright naturalization (Jus soli ) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children, when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.
The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalization by some other legal means. So in short with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for Non Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental Non-Muslims (but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu State).
Objective Reasons for opposing the CAA:
- The CAA 2019 doesn’t include the word “persecuted minorities” which has been the first line of defense from the government when asked to explain the logic of the Act.
- The communities like Ahmadiyas & Hazaras are not protected in the Act. One can argue reasonably that Ahmadiyas are as persecuted in Pakistan as Hindus or Christians. The insincere defense presented by the government to this question is utterly unconvincing. (that Indian state recognizes these groups as Muslims). Additionally no one can deny that Atheists(Apostates) and Shia are also considered anathema in some fundamentalist Sunni cultures (in Pakistan/ Bangladesh), hence a humanitarian act would protect the persecuted among these too.
- Sri lankan Tamils (Hindus, Christians & some Muslims) and Tibetan Buddhists are not included in the act. Tibetan Buddhists who have fled the Chinese communist state in the 50s and 60s are yet not naturalized citizens of India.
- The cut off date of 31 December 2014 appears arbitrary. If the aim of the act is humanitarian as it claims, why have a cutoff date in first place ? Surely these communities continue to be persecuted even after 2014.
- If the aim of the act was truly humanitarian, naturalization could have been accelerated for these communities without the ACT. Till date under 32000 people have taken refugee under this act.
Subjective fear-induced reasons for opposing the CAA:
- This ACT is the last straw that has broken the metaphorical camel’s back. The 5 years of first Modi government, which were seen as a highly polarized time, concluded with an even more polarizing Election campaign. Ticket to Sadhvi Pragya, divisive speeches by the BJP president and others, almost Zero tickets given to Muslim candidates outside the Kashmir Valley – all had pushed the Anti BJP sentiment to a new high. The introduction of CAA, the violence in JNU/Jamia, the Liberal media outrage all pushed the opponents of Modi government & BJP (including considerable number of non political Muslims) to see the CAA-NRC protests as their last stand.
- The opponents of the act say that act was meant as a bandage of the badly executed NRC in Assam. Its claimed that more than 50% of the 11 lac exclusions from the Assam NRC (i am unsure of the latest numbers) are Hindus. BJP cant afford to throw these under the bus (large reason for growing voteshare of BJP in north east are these migrants), while wanting to exclude the Bangladeshi Muslims from the franchise.
- Given the pathetic state of affairs in India state, its fair to assume that an exercise like NRC will lead to significant collateral damage. Even if innocent Indians citizens (particularly Muslims) are not disenfranchised, they will surely will have to suffer the Kafkaesque bureaucracy. When dealing with populations of crores, even a error of the magnitude of 0.0001% will lead to thousands of personal tragedies. While its logically coherent to assume no state could take such a rash decision, examples like Demonetization and Covid Lockdown migrant fiasco remind us something else.
- There is a fear among some of the Anti Hindutva folks (largely misguided imho) that CAA-NRA will be used perniciously by the state to disenfranchise all those who oppose the Hindutva ideology (Particularly Dalits and Tribals). (Intelligent and articulate politicians like Prakash Ambedkar, public figures like Varun Grover, Javed Akhtar and many others are guilty of stoking these unsubstantiated fears.). There has been an end justify means (dishonest ) attack on CAA-NRC from the left which is largely counterproductive imho.
- And last but not the least – CAA-NRC is largely seen by a section of liberal india as the next Ram Mandir for the BJP. Shekhar Gupta makes this very point in the following video.
- Many see this as an Inflection point for India – as the conception of Homeland of Muslims was for Pakistan. The pettiness with which the BJP has handled the Aatish Taseer case has raised serious questions in minds of many. Its not hysterical to assume that citizenship could be thus weaponized for petty politics.
Why CAA – NRC remains popular ?
- The fear the ten year religious census evoke in the non Muslim communities by and large cannot be understated. This is true for Christians in Northeast/ Goa/ Kerala too – not just Hindutva folks. Assam/W.Bengal & Kerala have crossed the threshold of comfort for most non Muslims (Kerala Christians are turning to RSS). The logical explanation for the disproportionate growth of Muslims is a long-winded and difficult to appreciate for most people (who are already driven by fear). Unless we get a charismatic lefty figure (Gandhi-like figure) who can calm the fears- i am afraid support for exclusionary CAA-NRC laws will continue in the silent majority. The Liberal side would do well to address these fears instead of dismissing them as fears of bigots. Its important to distinguish fear at rise of Muslims vs Christians. Most ordinary Hindus who have a life don’t care if Christians rise as a % of population (including coercive conversions) no matter how much Hindutvavadis scream about it. Hence despite being monotheistic, Christianity doesn’t evoke similar fear as Islam owing to a range of past and present problems.
- A significant section of Hindus (idelogical RSS/BJP) people have long espoused an explicitly Hindu Rashtra (not state). This thought is by no means a majority even among Hindus, but a significant minority nonetheless.
- Indians by and large are under the charm and propaganda influence of the Cult of Modi. When he says jump – they ask how high ? no matter their previous or personal ideological beliefs.
Why i oppose CAA-NRC ?
- I second all the objective critiques of CAA mentioned above.
- I do not trust the BJP government under Modi and especially Amit Shah to be fair.
- The Kafkaesque state of India is likely to do more collateral damage than good with the NRC.
- I am extremely apprehensive of the dog-whistling and polarization which is a natural outcome (maybe desired by the BJP) of pursuing the policy of CAA-NRC.
- If i were a born Muslim – i would’ve have been uncomfortable with the CAA.
- While i grant the Hindutva folks the argument – most the opposition to CAA is due to the fact that BJP has brought that in. Yes that is indeed true – most of even my opposition to CAA stems from the subjective unease than concrete/objective criticisms.
- I feel the CAA dilutes India’s moral claim on Kashmir. I feel its akin to accepting the Two nation theory.
The argument often made by Hindutva folks is that even if India becomes a Hindu Pakistan it wouldn’t be even be half as bad as Pakistan –
- largely due to fundamental differences Hinduism & Islam
- large size & diversity of India
- integrated service economy which will prevent worst forms of majoritarianism (i am a bit skeptical of this argument)
- democratic spirit which has percolated to certain extend in the franchise.
While i grant some of these arguments as I am just unwilling to take the risk.
The Dharmic Rashtra i wouldnt oppose: (thought not fully SUPPORT)
- An imagination of India as the civilization which is predominantly Hindu or Dharmic and hence plural is something i can support to a certain extent. If such conception leads a state like Great Britain or Denmark (where these countries are concretely Christian – yet in application there is often very negligible discrimination) it could help assuage some of the identity concerns of Hindus without necessarily ruffling other communities.
- As a person who identifies as a Hindu Atheist – i wouldn’t mind it if Indian Islam & Christianity come under the Wider Dharmic umbrella as other sects did before the Brits interfered (Stable equilibrium). This appears as wishful thinking nonetheless and hence i am skeptical of the Hindutva project.
- What would be more realistic to hope is a neutral yet tolerant equilibrium where these monotheisms act as Zoroastrianism and Judaism in India. It can be argued that these 2 denominations are too tiny to be successful models of integration for large and particularly uncompromising monotheisms. (Neutral equilibrium)
- Both these outcomes would be a marked positive over the current Unstable & Unequal equilibrium.
I have not addressed the concerns of people of the North east in this piece. None of the critique above justifies the apparent encouragement of illegal immigration (Muslim) done by the Congress and other left parties over the years. The accusation that Trinamool have actively encouraged illegal immigration in West Bengal appears to have some truth to it. Whether the NRC is implemented in West Bengal or not – i foresee some bloody years ahead for land of the Bhadraloks.
I must make it clear that i have no sympathy for violent demonstrations and even Chakka Jams (Road blocks). If the opposition to CAA is serious, their time and energy would be better spend in traversing the width and length of the country and starting a Liberal movement rooted in ground realities (a mirror to RSS). It takes hard and long work to bring about desired change in politics & society (ask the RSS). The CAA passed through both houses & truly represents the will of the people – the road to annul it must begin from the people on ground and not Courts or demonstrations (any such intervention from blackmail will be detrimental to the liberal cause in long run).
As this is a highly consequential debate, i welcome all feedback short of abuse.
Post Post Script:
CAA doesn’t grant ASYLUM to oppressed minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan. It grants Citizenship (including voting rights) above residence to those who have crossed over before January 2015.
IMO – ASYLUM >> CITIZENSHIP on priorities