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By Nazarul Islam, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: Does the world’s largest democracy, need a continued chain of Dramas (tamashas), or political circus, to keep the nation moving in a chartered course? Four days prior to the 71st anniversary of India’s Republic Day, the Supreme Court had served the nation with a grim reminder. And, the message emerged crystal clear! The battle to reclaim the Indian republic will now have to be fought by the public—on the streets of Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow or Hyderabad….across the great subcontinent of India.
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The much-awaited hearing of petitions opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, (or CAA), turned out to be a routine affair with little consequence, just as so many legal experts had feared. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal has pleaded for more time to respond to 143 petitions. And, the court gave the Narendra Modi government another four weeks, to respond. As is customary, the petitioners had asked for a stay on the operation of the CAA, and the National Population Register (NPR), or at least their postponement by a few months. The Supreme Court has shown its unwillingness, to currently engage with this issue.
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However, this is no ordinary matter, around 154 Members of the European Parliament has warned that CAA could trigger statelessness and widespread human suffering will take place, the five-page formal resolution has already been crafted by the lawmakers to be presented during European parliament which is scheduled in Brussels.
The legal battle over the CAA is about protecting the letter, the spirit and the very soul of the Indian Constitution. I am not an Attorney but do hold a fundamental grasp, as a student who is familiar with the Indian Constitution. I or like-minded thinkers would have imagined that the CAA had been an open-and-shut case of brazen violation of everything that the Indian Constitution has stood for. Had this been the case, most of us would have expected the Supreme Court to take a different approach.
However, I would not expect or even wish the Hon’ble judiciary to respond to the massive anti-CAA movement, happening all over India. Without prejudice, allow me to ask something. Is it unfair to expect the judges to find a way to address the fear that the CAA has generated in the minds of crores of Indians at the country’s social and geographic margins? The routine and hearing-as-usual approach are unlikely to inspire confidence at a time when people are desperately looking for assurances or relief from the constitutional order.
Mind you, dear readers, today’s Indian Supreme Court is not the bulwark to defend the Constitution that it was designed to be. It may still occasionally offer small relief. But it does not have what it would take to defend the Constitution in the face of this aggressive Modi regime. The present Supreme Court appears to be a reluctant warrior in the battle to defend the Constitution, going by recent pronouncements. Sometimes it is hard to say which side the honorable judges are in this battle, legal observers have said.
Watching from the fence lines, therefore, it is easy for us, to realize that the ongoing battle to reclaim the republic will not be fought inside the courts, or the nation’s Parliament nor in any of the ‘designated!institutional spaces. This struggle will have to be taken up into the streets by following a democratic and non-violent path. The public must reclaim the republic. It is up to the People of India, who gave to were gifted with this Constitution, who must come to its defense!
This is exactly what the ongoing movement for equal citizenship is all about. Now that the court hearing is behind the people of India, perhaps a long legal battle remains ahead. Is this not the moment to sit back and reflect on the future course of this nation-wide movement?
In a sense, this moment marks the completion of the first phase of the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movement. For most parts of India, this phase concludes with a country-wide human chain, planned by various organizations and coalitions on 30 January. Uttar Pradesh may be an exception because anti -CAA protests have just resumed after a month of a police clampdown on any form of protest. It is time now to think about the second phase of the movement.
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The initial phase of the movement has already accomplished what could not be imagined a month ago.
To begin with, it has broken the spiral of silence, especially for the Muslim community, which has spent the last six years in a state of deep anxiety. India’s communities spread over the vast land, have discovered its voice and the, resulting self-confidence. Second, the anti-CAA movement has achieved a vast footprint, rarely matched by any other movement. Third, it has tapped into the spontaneity of the people, with political leaders and organizations trying to catch up with them.
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Indeed, the participation of women and youth is a noteworthy achievement of lasting value. And finally, a new set of leaders have emerged everywhere, often sidelining the established clergy and political leadership. Last but not least, the movement has led to an extraordinary spurt in creativity, both in communication and in ground action.
The big question: Is it too early to celebrate? If the Modi regime has dug its heels on the CAA, it is because the government still hopes to recover from the loss of legitimacy, that it has suffered. While its attempt to paint the entire movement as the handiwork of unruly Muslim mobs has not succeeded, the fact remains that an overwhelming proportion of protesters outside the northeast are Muslims. While there have been very powerful rallies and demonstrations, these shows of strength are likely to evoke fear rather than empathy.
Again, as long as spontaneity remained the strength of the movement and there were no signs of fatigue—various other protests can and do work at cross purposes. The three basic pillars of the movement – protests in Assam, by the Muslim community, and of the youth —are not quite synchronized with one another.
After January 30, 2020—following the nation-wide human chain, the anti-CAA movement will enter its crucial, secondary phase. The focus of action must then shift from huge mobilization in cities and large towns—to smaller towns and villages. The focus of communication must shift from those who are already converts and those who are directly affected to the rest of the population, mainly Hindus who do not feel directly threatened by the new citizenship law.
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Special attention must now be given to Dalits, Adivasis and the nomadic communities that stand to lose most from the new regulations. In choosing the form of protest, the premium should be placed on Shaheen Bagh’s types of protests, which can evoke empathy among the rest of India’s population. The movement must find its own positive agenda, beyond opposing the NPR-NRC and the CAA.
There is an obvious, powerful and underlying purpose. The entire drill must henceforth connect itself with the widely felt economic distress. Remember, that whatever the objectives, this movement for equal citizenship must also look forward—become a movement for a renewal of India’s central theme of creation, and the concept—that the essential values, enshrined by founding fathers, are not lost in vain.
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