CAB/NRIC Regressive Citizenship Bills: India leaps back in time to 1947

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By  Bureau Chief Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: The cauldron of communal politics that the BJP stoked since 2014, seems to reached boiling point with the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), that both houses of parliament passed on Wednesday, which has triggered widescale agitations not only from Assam and Tripura in the North East but also the Hindi heartland, with 25,000 students from the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh on a hunger fast to register their protest. Protestors took to the streets in Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi too. The congress too took out a major rally in Delhi, for the first time, as an opposition leader The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), helmed by prime minister Narendra Modi,  seems to have been taken off guard, with the spontaneous protests that broke out, within hours of the ill-being passed in both houses of the parliament.

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A nation which has been caught on a violent roller coaster ride since the Modi government came to power in 2014, hoping to slow down in Modi 2.0, is on yet another tailspin with CAB, to be read with the equally vexatious National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). In this exercise which lasted five years and cost Rs 1600 crores, the Modi government found 19 lakh illegal migrants, of which a mere four lakh of them turned out to be Muslims. The rest of them, the breakdown of which the government is yet to make public, are Bangladeshi Hindus and Indian residents who had migrated to Assam from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar

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For a party which had systematically built up a support for NRIC, by claiming that two crore Muslims immigrants in Assam were like termites, gnawing into the insides of the state and need to be “thrown into the Bay of Bengal”, the actual numbers thrown up by the exercise took the wind off its sails. To course-correct, the damage, a hurriedly drafted and constitutionally damaging bill was presented in both houses, without it being presented to the select committee, or thrown up for debate or discussion. This has been the characteristic Modi/Shah to bully the members into simply giving the nod to all the bills that they have introduced during the last monsoon session, when as many as five important bills, including the ones relating to the Abrogation of Article 370, Triple Talaq, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, all of which were in keeping with their anti-Muslim sentiments

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This controversial bill which seems to be an afterthought, a hurriedly drafted bill, to correct the discrepancies in the NRIC, which seeks to give citizenship to “persecuted” minorities from just three neighboring countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The bill raises hackles and considered a gross violation against the principles of the Indian constitution because the bill specifically mentions that the refugees who are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists will be given Indian citizenship, while deliberately leaving Muslims out. What further raised hackles was that the “persecuted minorities” of Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims, the persecuted Ahmedi Muslims from Pakistan, or persecuted Tamil’s from Sri Lanka, mostly Hindus, will not be given refuge. As many as 90,000 Tamil refugees have spent 30 years in detention camps, waiting for citizenship and freedom.

The obvious purpose of CAB, however, is to give a second chance to those Hindus left out of the NRIC, for which they will have to lie that they are persecuted minorities from one of the three countries. For this, they will have to first give up their citizenship claims and then wait in detention camps, till the government remembers to put them back in the mainstream, a process which might take years

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Despite the trust the voters bestowed on them, and brought them to power, with the hope that their long-existing problems will be resolved, the Modi/Shah keep creating brand new problems instead, to keep the voters jumping from one goalpost to the other, without a pause. No issue stays in the limelight for too long enough to be carefully studied.

Part of their larger than life projection is to blow every issue on a massive scale, for maximum impact and traction, totally immune to the stress that the citizens undergo, to feed this megalomania. The issue of migration could have been handled in a lowkey, sensitive manner, without stripping them of their dignity. Some unable to handle the pressure of producing half a century old documents, when the nation is waiting to still see Modi’s original educational degrees, committed suicide.

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Vinayak Damodar Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha first envisioned the Two-Nation theory, in 1923 which envisages two separate nations for Hindus and Muslims. Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League later adopted this theory in March 1931, which became the basis of the Pakistan movement and led to the creation of Pakistan from India. An irrefutable fact.

But Amit Shah while defending the Citizen Amendment Bill (CAB) insisted that it was congress, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi who were responsible for the partition, while conveniently missing out critical names like Sardar Patel, and Shyama Prasad Mukherji, who were all part of the partition saga. History cannot be rewritten, but it certainly can be distorted and that this what Modi/Shah have strived to do since 2014, when they first came to power, on the shoulders of the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak (RSS), its parent body.

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RSS has always dreamed of a Hindu Rashtra(nation) and has been insidiously working at it long before independence. The passage of this bill is seen as another emphatic step in that direction. RSS which came into existence in 1925, would want their dream of a Hindu Rashtra to be fulfilled before they complete their centenary in 2025.

Several questions arise from the desperate need to impose both the NRIC and CAB, by stream-rolling the opposition, when the country is going through an economic crisis. The initial exercise in Assam, has cost Rs 1600 crores, which not only has Amit shah threatened to redo. He also emphatically stated amidst protests in parliament to carry out NRIC through the country, an exercise which is likely to cost Rs 35-40,000 crores to the exchequer, at a time when the government too had to wipe out Rs 1.76 lakh crore in dividend and surplus reserve of the RBI, because it was so broke.

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The purpose of both the NRIC and CAB like all the government’s plans are not clear at all. A handful of black money hoarders in the country, who could have been tracked with increased vigil became an excuse for the disastrous demonetization in November 2018. The entire country lined up for months, struggling to withdraw their own money, set aside for marriages, for medical emergencies, education, which they were deprived of without a warning. The damage that was wrought on the economy is still being felt. All of which the government has tried to keep under wraps. What was supposed to be a move to identify black money, turned out to be one of the biggest frauds in independent India to convert black money into white. The shock, it delivered to the country’s economy which has nosedived since then, registering its worst Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures in 26 years, was further compounded by another hastily imposed Goods and Services Tax (GST).

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This narcissistic duo who acts first and thinks later are currently stuck with one of the worst clampdowns in modern history, in Kashmir, since August this year. The entire state now reduced to a Union Territory has been turned into an open-air prison, with daily life completely disrupted, with no indication of when normalization will return to the valley. Any withdrawal of the 80,000 troops stationed there, to return normalcy could be greeted with bloodshed.

Since the country was numbed into silence, in the last five years, and remained silent over the clampdown in Kashmir, the agitations that broke out through the country following the prospects of CAB becoming a reality, came as a shock.

Assam and Tripura were the first to erupt, within hours of CAB being passed in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP along with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was able to form the government in Assam for the first time in 2016, because of Modi’s speech after speech, promising to implement the Assam Accord of 1971. The accord signed in 1985, by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, after years of agitation by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) demanding that migrants from Bangladesh, mostly Hindus, who had escaped from there, to settle in Assam after 1971 should be asked to leave. The migrants had escaped violence after the war to separate East from West Pakistan, to settle in Assam.

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AASU which is leading the agitation again in Assam is very clear that their issue is with migrants diluting their cultural and social ethos, and that it is not a matter of communal divide at all. It was the RSS agenda in Assam, during the struggle for Assam accord too, that Hindus be identified as refugees, and Muslims be identified as foreigners and infiltrators.

Once the exercise identifying the migrants was undertaken, Assam heaved a sigh of relief, until the details of CAB percolated out of the parliament. Amit Shah stated that the bill was meant to help “persecuted minorities” which would include Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists, except Muslims,  from three Islamic states, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. And those who had entered the country, before December 2014, would be allowed to seek citizenship in India. The Assamese who are fighting to keep their linguistic and cultural identity alive in their state were shocked that not only would they have to accept migrants from 1971 to 1985 when the accord was signed, but also accept migrants who came for 30 plus years after that. This made them take to the streets the same night, with torches of fire, which the mainstream media blocked.

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Meanwhile, there are many legal experts in the country who feel that this bill based on religious discrimination and which is clearly very communal in nature, would not stand the test of scrutiny in the Supreme Court, on several grounds.

“So many of the facts have been mixed up. Afghanistan was never part of independence/partition. After Independence, those from Pakistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before July 1948, automatically got citizenship, without ever being asked whether they were Hindus or Muslims”, says constitutional expert, Faizan Mustafa.

“By adding Afghanistan, it has become an arbitrary decision, and unconstitutional.  The decision not to impose NRIC and CAB in the North East, except Assam is very arbitrary too”, he says.

A second major contradiction is that BJP which has been vociferously campaigning against illegal immigrants and now with CAB says now all cases against non-Muslim immigrants will be dropped. “CAB is an ordinary bill, but disrupting constitutional principles,” he said.

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35 million Muslims became citizens in India during partition because they fulfilled the only three criteria emphasized in the constitution, that you are born here, one or both parents are born here, or you are a bonafide resident here.

“If you think 5-10 crores Muslims can be identified through CAB and thrown out of India, then you are living in fool’s paradise,” he cautioned.

“Most of the Muslims have always been here, they chose not to leave the country in the first place. Contrary to this misinformation campaign propagated by BJP, no Muslims came from other countries. They had rejected the two-nation theory of Jinnah and Hindu Mahasabha and therefore never left. It is wrong to make the majority Hindus suspicious of them, who have always been with them,” he said.

The worst thing about NRIC is that anybody can complain against anybody under suspicion and the onus will be on the victims to prove their nationality.

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By focusing on the religion of the refugees, it is bringing international shame, with many organizations, United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom watching the unfolding developments, with concern.

The majority of victimhood is constantly being fed the narrative that we are protecting you from Muslims, so support us. That ‘they” are responsible for all that is ailing the country. And the educated and well-heeled, living nationally and internationally are falling in this trap.

Meanwhile, Shah’s question in Parliament, to further appeal to the sentiments of the Hindus asked, which country gives Indian’s citizenship, when there are Indian’s living and doing well all over the world, is just one of the many lies, uttered by him with a straight face, even in Parliament. It is such an irony that countries like the USA, Canada, and the UK have given citizenship to even those who were illegal immigrants once.

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Meanwhile, the most important question to be asked here is why should Indian citizenship criteria be based on religion at all? The difference between Pakistan and India at the time of Partition was that Pakistan chose to be explicitly a religious state, while India chose to be secular.

At this point, it needs to be asked BJP and the millions who voted for it, whether this divisive agenda, with nothing in terms of developmental gains, really the most important priority for the moment? Should the BJP not use its political capital, to make tougher decisions to improve the economy?

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

 

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar is the regional Bureau Chief of the USA based News Portal, "www.TheIndiaObserver.Com". She has been a fearless journalist for over two decades and has worked in several publications in Mumbai, India. She has worked for The Pioneer, The Daily, Afternoon Despatch, and Courier, Free Press Group, Life Positive, freelanced for The Federal, The Week, Midday, Deccan Herald, Herald-Citizen (USA), South Asian Times (USA). She is a broadcaster, commentator, interviewer besides being an investigative journalist. She has covered several beats, including politics, civic affairs, law, public health, crime, sports, environment. She has also been an assistant producer for a documentary film commissioned by PBS, on Methamphetamine addiction in Tennessee, called Crank: Darkness on the edge of town. She has also been a guest faculty teaching journalism at the School of Broadcasting, Mumbai.

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