Monday, February 6, 2023
HomeOpinionCAB protests a battle for India – either we are a secular...

CAB protests a battle for India – either we are a secular state or we aren’t India at all

With the Citizenship Bill we cross the Rubicon, from a secular state to a ‘secular’ state. Everyone who believed in the idea of India must stand up.

Text Size:

Now that the passage of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB in Parliament is a near-certainty, it is time to look beyond its critique. It is time to rethink the secular response to such an assault. It is time to shift the principal arena from courts and legislatures to public opinion, move from reactive opposition to proactive resistance, and descend from an abstract to a more grounded understanding and communication.

Let there be no doubt about this. The soon-to-be Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is discriminatory and divisive by design. It is not just about protecting the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Bengali Hindu vote bank in Assam. It is not limited to creating a communal rift before the West Bengal assembly elections due in 2021. Its stated objective of sheltering ‘persecuted religious minorities’ is a fig-leaf to cover the real purpose: send a formal signal that Muslims are second-rate citizens in the Republic of India.

As such, this legislation is an assault on our Constitution and the idea of India that guided our freedom struggle. When combined with the proposal to extend the National Register of Citizens to the entire country, it can thus disfigure the nature of the Indian republic. With this amendment, we cross the Rubicon, from a secular state to a ‘secular’ state. This is the moment for everyone who believed in the idea of India to stand up.

Also read: Congress wore 1971 war trophy, but left an unfinished business. CAB came out of that

BJP loses on facts

What exactly must we do? The opponents of the CAB have asked five searching questions that have blown the official cover-up. One, if India wants to give shelter to the persecuted citizens from our neighbourhood, why pick only Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan? After all, we share our borders with Myanmar, Nepal and China as well. Two, if the concern is persecution, why focus only on religious persecution and not on regional (Balochistan in Pakistan) and ethnic (Terai in Nepal, Tamils in Sri Lanka) persecution that India has been talking about? Three, if the idea is to limit ourselves to religious persecution, why exclude Ahmadiyyas and Shias from Pakistan, Tibetans from China, Rohingyas from Myanmar and Hindus and Muslims from Sri Lanka? Four, if the persecution is ongoing, why stop the benefits in 2014? And, five, on what relevant ground has the government exempted some parts of the country from the operation of this law? The government and its defenders have no half-satisfactory response to any of these questions.

The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah regime has, instead, peddled cheap lies. For instance, it spreads the falsehood that India and Pakistan were partitioned on the basis of religion (Pakistan was, but not India). Or the misinformation that only these three neighbours have state religions (Sri Lanka’s constitution also mandates the promotion of Buddha sasana). Or the canard that fundamental rights under our Constitutions do not apply to a non-citizen (no, it applies to every ‘person’). Or, the official ‘myth-busting’ that the amendment won’t grant just citizenship to Bengali Hindus (just when Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed it that very day). While the BJP has the numbers to win the parliamentary debate, it has lost the public debate on facts. Even the otherwise pro-government media was constrained to bring out these blatant lies of the regime.

But big battles are not won by an ideational debate. And that is where the secular movement in India faces a challenge. If the current regime has gone ahead with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill disregarding all facts and opposition on the ground, it does so with the confidence that such a measure would enjoy popular acceptance. This is where the real battle to save the soul of India must be joined.

Also read: Citizenship Bill has only one aim: protect non-Muslims, harass Muslims

Proactive opposition not reactive

There is, of course, the judicial test. Naturally, the attention will now shift to the Supreme Court where CAB would be challenged. More than a test of the unconstitutional law, it would be a test of the judiciary. In normal times, this should have been an open and shut case, where the courts can read and follow the simple text of the Constitution. But we live in extraordinary times. The judiciary, including the highest court, has demonstrated willingness to read the law in curious ways in matters where the regime is known to be keen on favourable verdict. So, it should be a pleasant surprise if the Supreme Court strikes this down. No matter what the judicial pronouncement, it is not a substitute for the political battle, the contestation for public opinion and mobilisation, for that is where this battle will be finally decided.

The seed for a new movement is already there. The passage of the CAB in the Lok Sabha has led to spontaneous protests all over India. There are three different streams here. First, there are various Muslim groups who feel unjustly targeted and stigmatised. They oscillate between mobilising the community to opposing the CAB and preparing it for any official registration exercise following the amendment. The second opposition has come from Assam and other states in the northeast that had erupted against the CAB when it was first introduced in January and we are seeing it again now. It should be noted that the impulse of these two protests is very different. Protests in the northeast reject the CAB for its surreptitious inclusion of Bengali Hindus, while the Muslims groups contest their discriminatory exclusion. And then there is the third group of conscientious objectors from all regions and communities, including civil rights groups and peoples’ movements of all hues.

The real challenge is to weave these various strands into a coherent and powerful movement for undivided citizenship. In earlier columns, I have repeatedly drawn attention to the failures and frailties of Indian secularism, both in theory and practice and suggested a new approach to some of the recent challenges. It is time to attend to some of these weaknesses. To begin with, the movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill would need to listen to the legitimate anxieties of the anti-immigrant protestors in the northeast. Their apprehension of being rendered a minority in their homeland is as well-founded as the fear of the migrant. Both of them want a principled and non-discriminatory policy on migration and asylum. The movement for secular India must go beyond knee-jerk reactions to the politics and policies of the current regime. It must move from reactive to a proactive mode. Above all, we must renew the ideal of secularism for every new generation and anchor it in our languages and our cultural heritage.

Also read: Tripura isn’t anti-Hindu. But we must stop Citizenship Bill, we can’t take in more people

A secular India

This is the moment to remember leaders of our freedom struggle who read various languages including English but wrote principally in their own bhashas. This is the moment to recall not just Gandhi but also spiritual leaders like Vivekananda whose famous pronouncement in Chicago on offering shelter to everyone offers an ideal worth emulating.

It is heartening to see that most of the CAB protestors have come together for a nation-wide action on 19 December, the martyrdom day of Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfakullah Khan. They must remember that at stake here is not just an amendment, nor just the principle of citizenship, nor even secularism. This is a battle for the soul and body of India. We either have a secular India or we risk not having India at all.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. How can one say that there will be uniform & fair implemenation of CAA-NRC laws when birh and death are still not registred in India? It was only first time in the independent India; the Parliament enacted the law called Registration of Births and Deaths Act (RBD Act), 1969, which was enforced in most parts of the country in 1970. However India’s birth registration stood at 54.5% in 1996 and only about 20% of the births were being registered in Bihar in 1995 and data in many states is not available. GET REAL IMPLEMENTAION OF CAA-NRC WILL BE UNFAIR, UNJUST AND WILL ONLY PUNISH MUSLIMS WHO DO NOT HAVE ANY PAPERS/DOCUMENTATION.

    Martin Luther King Jr said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Remeber standing up to bullies is the hallmark of a civilized society.

  2. India is my home &hearth, a tiny part of mother Earth, I belong to it ,just as it belongs to me, this belonging is unlike wealth ,bestowed on all who are born , not by virtue of a piece of paper, for all those who are born shall be accepted for eternity into it, there is ample space here ,even for those not knowing is eternity near.

  3. The idea of india is not to bat for Pakistani muslims.CAB is for refugees not for existing citizens.india is not a dharmsala that we will give shelter to all sorts of people from baloch,Yazid,Kurds,Uighurs,rohingyas,yemens,Syrians in india.there r 56 muslim countries in world.why they r coming to india which is so intolerant?

  4. Even though these leftists teach others to be tolerant , they are intolerant and cannot digest defeat . Just look at the Democratic party of USA and Indian Congress and Yogendra Yadav and his friends. Fortunately they dont have teeth.

    • Intolerant of intolerence….as asked the poet of god:
      “Jahara tomar bishayeche bayu,
      nibhayeche tabo alo –
      Tumi ki tader khama koriyacho?
      Tumi ki beshecho bhalo?”

  5. Everyone in India, including the BJP, RSS etc, want a “Secular” state”. What they DO NOT want is the “Congress” and the Left parties’ concept of what is Secular, which keeps changing as per its own convenience and need

  6. Yogendra Yadav, get some life. Your political career is going nowhere. Even AAP threw you out. Who cares what you think.
    Bharat is Hindu rashtra and we will be definitely get there. Just keep watching.
    Its our right. Its the only hindu country.
    We will throw away this Secular garb soon.

    • Yogendra is clearly a better writer and thinker than he is a politician. He is totally right here. Saying that India is a Hindu country is anti-constitutional and is treason! you, mr. (ms?) chavan, or at least your comment above, is anti-national.

      • “India is a thriving democracy” is the only valid truth. Use of secularism and the constitution is a political convenience. Constitution is above people is the biggest farce fake secularists has propagated to protect their superiority over Indian masses. A handful of secularists had created and forced the constitution over helpless masses. Now they want to make the constitution as sacrosanct what religious goons have done to Bible, Quran and other books. A month back Shiva Sena was non-secular for these secularists. Today, Shiva is change overnight from non-secular to secular. Hypocrisy and double standards of secularists are boundless.

  7. CAB is inspired by savrkar’s cultural nationhood concept.writer criticize it Good . But it forget to mention that it Genesis lies in Muslim cultural nationhood. But alas liberal never criticize Islamic concept of nationhood.

  8. We were never meant to be a secular state. The word was inserted into the constitution illegally during the emergency. Moreover, a state that has different laws for different communities, even by the leftists’ definition, is not a secular state. We are living in a country in which the Constitution openly lies through a glaring contradiction – and nobody seems to have the cajones to say it out loud.

  9. Secular parties opened the borders for Muslim immigrants, kept the border security on backburner, gave aadhar card, ration card, vorer id and took their votes.

      • Don’t behave like Rahul Gandhi. There were and there are non bjp state governments who had ignored the laws in case of illegal immigrants just to get their votes.

  10. If USA can think of erecting or raising a wall on its southern boarder with Mexico , — to stop mainly and only their Christian brothers– why Indian parliament can not pass legislation to regulate grant of citizenship to cross boarder refugees. Why and how it cannot impose restrictions on grant of Indian citizenship to refuges keeping in view the hardship faced by religious minorities of given set of countries ? why the government and Majority community of given set countries who are mainly responsible for atrocities on The Hindu and like wise minorities in their own countries , should also be given red carpet reception in India ? it is matter of utmost concern to people of India that Owaassies, Congis , so-called leftist, Pakistan s Tehrique –a- Islam party, Pakistan muslim league etc etc. are speaking in one language . They have been, they are anti-Hindu, anti-Indian. Beware of them if India is to survive .

    • You’ve answered your question for yourself. In USA they (those lunatics who) wanted a Wall to stop Mexicans, or illegal immigrants regardless of their religion whether christian or otherwise. That’s what Assamese want: indiscriminate prevention of immigrants.

      Don’t try to rationalise your Islamophobia and Ulterior motives. Why don’t you ask why couldn’t that WALL be built yet. Why was it not allowed by the US judiciary and the US people.

      By that logic, why not US get rid of those Hindus immigrants in their country, who are trying to overpopulate US (in view of a US citizen) and affect their national politics. Believe me, they hate Indians as much as you hate Muslims. That’s why Trump once told India “ a third world Shit Hole”. And that’s the true attitude of a common US citizen towards India as well. Some Americans cheered the tweet while most had no objection. They call us a Chaos. But vote bank is what forcing Trump for his hypocritical generosity. Indian diaspora is highly insecure of their identity due to their inferiority complex. Their lack of assimilation into US society And the above mentioned facts are what that explain the success of “Howdy Modi”. Those NRI don’t care about India at all. In fact for them the american-born, latest generation NRIs (having no nostalgia for India in contrast to their elders) India is a constant cause of embarrassment and disgrace – that’s why the inferiority complex. Xenophobia is what led americans to vote from Trump. Even Italian and Spanish americans are outsiders to those bigots. Forget about Indians. But there are good, sensible, broad minded people in America as well and they well outnumber those narrow-minded bigots. But, sadly, that’s not the case with India. That’s why America is “America” and India is “India”.

      Are bhai vikaash karne aaye the, acche din laane aaye the, pehle usko le aate to accha rehata, Kya?? Ye sab bad m baith k suljhate. Acche din aa jate to jara aaaram se sofa p baith kr sochte. Hai ki nahi?

    • Vikram, the immigrants of the southern border of the US are Christian’s. The bias against them is their skin color.

  11. Yogendra Yadav has put things very clearly. This is not a Hindu/ Muslim issue as some commentators are making it out to be. It is the idea of India that we are leaving for the future generations. We cannot allow a diverse country like India to become a totalitarian and unitarian state as envisaged by the present political regime.

  12. either we are a secular state or we aren’t India at all – absolutely right. it is time to fight for India.

  13. Sure it will sink in the deep recesses of the Top court. An average Muslim or Christian just does not care CAB. In fact he is not even aware such a nonsense is being discussed. If mass physical movement of minorities results in mass extermination by way of diseases so be it. Having shared close spaces with such unfortunate people I would say the minorities just don’t care.

    • CAB doesn’t have anything to do with Christians anyway. They are eligible for Indian citizenship under persecuted category anyways.

  14. Many will share the columnist’s thought that this is an open and shut case, but we live in curious times. 2. When CJI Ranjan Gogoi was streaking though the Ayodhya hearings, my heart began to sink. Then I saw an episode of Cut the Clutter which reassured me. The Editor seemed to suggest that nothing untoward would happen, the apex court could be relied upon to passed a fair verdict. 3. My first thought on CAB was that it would sink like a stone in the apex court. Now one cannot say.

    • It is neithera open and shut case of wrong legislation nor unconstitutional. If this violates Art 14, then all discriminatory pro Minority laws and Articles in constitution will stand nullified. Either CAB passes court scrutiny or Pro Minority laws will stand anulled 🙂

Comments are closed.