The way the government had handled the J&K issue with such delicate and detailed planning, it was a surprise to see the way protests on the CAA has spread across India.
Modi 2.0 was running on top gear ever since BJP returned to power with an increased majority. The return to power has given the government and the party sufficient confidence for the government to take up all pending issues one by one. For the first time in the last six years, Modi government appeared similar to the Narasimha Rao led Congress government as it was attacking and fast-tracking issues that were pending for long and was addressing them in an almost perfect manner. The way the government had handled the J&K issue with such delicate and detailed planning, it was a surprise to see the way protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act have spread across India.
Though the opposition could not articulate what they were opposing, they were effective in organizing protests that served the purpose of projecting the government in poor light, while highlighting that the government is anti-Muslim.
Of course, for any democratic government envisaging the response from both political and administrative perspectives was essential. The way Modi and Shah handled J&K affair involved the execution of a plan that was so meticulously designed after considering so many contingencies. Having witnessed the government handling an issue of international importance with such finesse, one doubts whether the government had applied its mind in passing CAA without any preparation to handle the responses.
Having passed the bill that was later proclaimed an act, Modi and Shah were repeatedly explaining that this act has nothing to do with Indians and minorities have no reason to apprehend. Yet, the protests that have started in the North East, where this act is not supposed to be applicable, have soon turned into a nationwide agitation. It appears the government has failed to foresee nationwide protests of such magnitude. Did the government seek a report from the intelligence on possible protests before initiating the debate on CAB in the parliament? Apparently not. Or, one may say the government was a bit overconfident on this bill after tasting success in multiple attempts that had the potential to ignite protests. Has the government thought the opposition has resigned itself to its bad fate and acknowledged that it is not worth trying to stimulate Indians against BJP or in particular, Modi? If so, it is time for the government to recognize that it is the government that has become complacent and not the opposition. In fact, after delivering a political blow to the BJP in Maharashtra, the opposition is now like a hound baying for blood after tasting a few drops.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, by nature, is not a swift one-time action, but a long drawn process that may last for years. The Prime Minister and Home Minister may be talking about only of CAA or NRC as two separate entities, but for any enlightened citizen, these two are mutually reinforcing and neither one has any meaning without the other. In fact, BJP had committed a mistake by conducting NRC in the last term in Assam without CAA to support it. The NRC in Assam had resulted in many Hindus being declared illegal immigrants forcing the state BJP to oppose the result.
What the BJP and the government intended to do is not even controversial, unless one wanted to look it through some lens. Frankly speaking, the critics have not got many points on the constitutional validity of the act. For instance, when the critics said it was only Pakistan that was created based on religion but not India, they intentionally forget Pakistan and India are nothing but two sides of the same coin. And all those who say Secularism is part of Indian Constitution conveniently forget that this word was inserted during Emergency by one government that was illegal in the first place. Perhaps, it would have been more prudent on BJP’s part if they tried to restore the preamble of Constitution first and then try to amend various acts.
Though the opposition could not articulate what they were opposing, they were effective in organizing protests that served the purpose of projecting the government in poor light, while highlighting that the government is anti-Muslim. On the other side, the government was highly articulative in winning arguments in TV studios while they were losing ground to protestors on the streets and universities. It is of no use saying the protests are needless and were organized by anti-establishment forces. It only proves the point that the government was poor in communicating with Muslims, who treated this act as something that would question their nationality. Of course, it is really funny for a doctrine that places the faith above nationality but raising that question would appear ludicrous in this situation because, irrespective of one’s religion, nationality can’t be taken away from any citizen – as repeatedly said by Modi and Shah.
Maybe the government on its own will push the pause button and clear all the misgivings and finalize the execution plan before embarking on the implementation of NRC and CAA.
Perhaps it would have helped if the government acted through Muslim leaders so the apprehensions are allayed. But, by the time the government prodded the Imam to issue a statement that CAA has nothing to do with Indian Muslims, the situation has gone out of hand. The opposition is clearly fanning out the protests so they can consolidate the Muslim vote bank that is now split wide open between any and every political party. Everyone from Mamata to Owaisi to even Uddhav is protesting the act for reasons that are simply nonsensical. Yet, they are effective.
Maybe it is time for the government to pause and reflect on the situation. Yes, the government wanted to grant citizenship to non-Muslims being persecuted in the Islamic countries surrounding India as this was part of unfinished business left over during partition and subsequently by the Nehru-Liaquat pact. The government wanted to repatriate illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Frankly speaking by not applying CAA in northeastern states(added), even the issue of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh is not properly addressed. If the act is not applicable to NE, does it mean the Hindu migrants from Bangladesh would be relocated to the mainland? Seems this was not answered because this question was not in the syllabus.
One serious argument by those opposing CAA is millions of poor Muslims don’t have valid identification proofs and so will face problem during NRC preparation. This logic is absurd as for decades it was these poor Muslims that were nurtured as a vote bank by the Congress and have all sorts of valid identifications and were voting continuously in all elections. In one recent case wherein one Magistrate Court in Mumbai ordered the repatriation of a lady from Bangladesh, the said lady even had an Aadhar card. Now if one considers the fact that this very BJP government ordered that passport can be issued with Aadhar as proof, one can realize how many illegal immigrants already do have a valid passport too.
So, we can disregard the objection of these protestors. But, there is another problem. The problem is simply about the logistics of carrying out NRC. Two decades ago, taxpayers were asked to have PAN cards. One decade ago, subsidy availing persons were asked to have Aadhar cards. Now, NRC. As the reach of NRC is to cover each and every citizen of India, one can expect how long this campaign would take. And, almost all non-BJP states have opposed the act, implementation would be really slow and will take decades. Even after this long drawn exercise, if the government is really able to identify the illegal immigrants, it is not clear what the government can really do with them. Repatriation of millions is not so easy task. So, what would the government achieve? The end result may be very less. Will that be worthy of this much time and money and procedure? Is it not easier to fence the border? At least that would prevent further illegal entries.
There are clear pieces of evidence on how people from Bangladesh enter India even through fences after greasing palms of few officials to look other way. It would be more effective if the government could plug such loopholes and that would be a better way to utilize national resources. If we can prevent people from Pakistan entering into India that would increase internal security a lot.
Somehow, the CAA has turned out to be Demonetization of Modi’s second term. During Demonetization, people – including Muslims believed in Modi and braved the hardship. However, except claims like many accounts were kept in abeyance, the government could not recover even two lac crores, an amount equal to roughly 12% of the total money that was demonetized. People even didn’t mind that the Modi government failed to make any gain from the Demonetization and were content that his intent was good though the execution was not so perfect.
In the case of CAA, the issue is again not the intent except for those who wanted to score political points. Of course, one may say the protestors are ill-educated on the issue and are being worried unnecessarily. But, is it not the responsibility of the government to communicate to those worried citizens? Maybe the government on its own will push the pause button and clear all the misgivings and finalize the execution plan before embarking on the implementation of NRC and CAA. By doing so, the stature of the government will not be belittled but will grow. And, such an action would help in creating and shaping the image of BJP for decades to come.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.