A gathering of hindutva supporters | @BJP4India | Twitter
A gathering of Hindutva supporters | @BJP4India | Twitter
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For the first time, India’s leaders have sought to redefine the country effectively as a home for South Asians that aren’t Muslims. 

India is, and has been since independence in 1947, a liberal secular democracy. Its first generation of leaders resolutely refused to accept the argument of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah that the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent represented two different nations. Thus, while Pakistan became a Muslim homeland, India insisted it was a state for citizens of all creeds. Whatever else might have changed in the seven decades since, that much has remained true.

Till now. For the first time, India’s leaders have sought to redefine the country effectively as a home for South Asians that aren’t Muslims — and they’re enshrining the distinction into law. That’s the underlying message of a bill that was passed this week by the lower house of India’s Parliament, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has a majority.

The new law amends the religion-blind Citizenship Act written in the early years of Indian independence “to facilitate acquisition of citizenship by six identified minority communities namely Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.” Calling them “persecuted migrants,” the government minister who introduced the amendment said “they have nowhere to go but India.”

Sadly, that may well be true. Many of India’s neighbors have a far worse record dealing with their religious minorities than India has with its own. And India must certainly welcome them.

Yet, in spite of its claims, India’s government is not in fact acting purely on humanitarian impulses. After all, at the moment the most persecuted minority on India’s borders are the Rohingyas who have fled Myanmar; being Muslim, they’re very obviously not welcome. Neither are the Shias and Ahmadis who are the focus of everyday violence in Pakistan — or, for that matter, the atheist bloggers of Bangladesh that have been threatened by machete-wielding extremists. As one commentator put it, the amendment could be summed up in one phrase: “No Muslims please, this is India.”

Not surprisingly, electoral politics — and the complex history of India’s eastern states — are also playing a role. The state of Assam has been convulsed in the past by violence supposedly directed at migrants from next-door Bangladesh, but in fact targeting anyone of Bengali ethnicity, regardless of national or religious background.

A decades-old accord set the date beyond which cross-border migration became illegal at 1971, the same year that Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Now, the government is demanding people prove they or their parents arrived before then — an absurd process that, if carried to its logical end, would require India to set up internment camps for literally hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. (Some camps have already been built.) The government hopes, through the new citizenship rules, to ensure that no non-Muslims are caught up in this sweep of “foreigners.”

Assam’s sub-nationalists are furious: They don’t want to welcome any outsiders, Hindus included. Yet the government is facing a tight reelection later this year, and at least some BJP strategists appear to hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will serve as a wedge issue elsewhere in India — especially in nearby West Bengal state.

Personally, I doubt that will work; like Assam, West Bengal is one of those parts of India where ethnicity has traditionally counted for more than religion. In the religiously polarized north and west of India, however, the law might help the BJP mobilize a few million extra voters.

Surely even a few million votes aren’t worth allowing India to lose a seven-decade old argument and accept that Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” was correct after all? Is an election victory worth making India’s 170 million Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country?

I would argue that, for the BJP, it isn’t just about the votes. It’s precisely about changing what India has represented for 70 years. That’s why the party has repeatedly invoked the memory of Partition when discussing the new law. The BJP’s most popular leader in Assam called Assam’s Muslims “Jinnahs.”

Modi himself put things bluntly: The new law, he said, was meant as penance for errors committed at the time of Partition. Contrary to the official histories of India, many in the BJP don’t believe dividing the subcontinent in 1947 was a tragic error. Modi told a Muslim journalist in 2012: “You people find your mouth watering because you think by combining India, Pakistan and Bangladesh … the country would have a lot of Muslims.”

In India, disputes over decades-old history can still determine elections. But, the country has held together and stayed largely peaceful precisely because the muddled secular liberalism that united most of India’s founding generation was enshrined in its laws. If India abandons those principles, it will become a darker and more dangerous place. –Bloomberg

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7 COMMENTS

  1. But then why leave out SLan Tamils who are also persecuted Hindus? That’s because the Brahminical RSS/BJP considers them Tamils first not Hindus due to their lower caste dravidian roots n not upper caste/Brahmins Aryan origin. Should the BJP and more so the RSS pracharak turned PM Narendra Modi return to power the country will start breaking up.

    • Mr Mohan, grow up and read up!!

      This North South divide based on the Aryan Invasion Theory, which has been thoroughly discredited, having no historical, archeological and scientific basis. It was a theory made British sponsored historians and later propagated by their Indian toadies to make British rule more palatable in India and also divide the country. So please don’t blindly use falsehoods like the DMK! And with regard to the Sri Lankan Tamils, this was a conflict originally instigated and be ignited by Mrs Indira Gandhi but now has been settled.

  2. Sir pakistan is not only country but also represent a thinking and I.e. state can be formed on basis of religion also muslim in these two country follow strict form of islamic law. They can not adjust in secular democracy. So it is good but I also welcome shiya, shadiya, hazara or atheist of subcontinent in India because India is a successor of British India.

  3. Yes, India is the natural home of all non-Muslims of the sub-continent. After all, Muslims decided that they could not live with non-Muslims, demanded a separate country and got one (or two). The history and facts make it perfectly clear that India ought to be the natural home of everyone else. The weak minded congress party leaders chose to pretend otherwise because it served their political purposes.

  4. No Muslims please , It is India.” This is what the new ammendment says. And why not? Didn’t the Muslims of the sub continent got their share of land etc. in proportion to their population based on two nation theory?

  5. No Muslims please , It is India.” This is what the new bill says. And why not? Didn’t the Muslims of the sub continent got their share of land etc. in proportion to their population based on two nation theory?

  6. India was so used on the basis of religion. Muslims wanted Pak and was given. Alas, all Muslims did not leave India and remain behind to backstabe again and again. They don’t want common law for all, they don’t respect majority feelings, they breed like pigs on Allah’s name and also eat up large share of GDP. India is a natural home for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain’s as these religions emanates from Indian soil. Islam has nothing to do with this soil. So let all non Muslims come to India and let all Muslims go to Pakistan. The writer writes compassionately about Rohingyas. Does he knowany Rohingya Muslims have killed Hindus in Burma and fled in Bangla Desh. The writer is sitting in safe heaven of his home and dashing out articles to The Print and The Print has been publishing these articles to get cheap publicity.

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