The past few weeks have demonstrated, once again, that the future of the Indian republic is in the safest hands: its people’s. Citizens from all walks of life have emerged as the vanguard of Indian democracy, placing themselves on the frontline of vicious attacks tearing at India’s pluralist fabric. These protests have swept across the land like a gust of fresh wind, shaking our political class out of slumber, and blown away the crusty remnants of apathy to reveal a young, dynamic and engaged society.
And not a moment too soon. The nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 will go down in history as among the finest moments of civic consciousness in independent India. But the forces of communalism and majoritarianism are equally afoot, trying to lay claim to the soul of our nation. The CAA attempts to introduce religion as a determinant of nationhood for the first time since 1947. On the eve of Indian Independence, we witnessed a partition of its soil. The CAA attempts to partition its soul.
We must take it upon ourselves to thwart these malevolent forces. “Eternal vigilance”, as the saying goes, “is the price of liberty”.
A fight for freedom
The CAA turns India against Indians. This morally repugnant and constitutionally suspect law divides the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, and threatens to cast out our friends, neighbours and colleagues if they are unable to “prove” their citizenship through ancestral records. As many of us know, large parts of our population — especially the poor and the marginalised — are in no position to produce their birth certificates or land records, let alone prove that their ancestors were living in India decades ago.
The Narendra Modi government at the Centre has already announced that there is a “chronology” to its insidious plan: first implement the CAA and confer citizenship on some communities, and then create a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) to “root out” those excluded from the Act, branding them as “illegal immigrants”. It is heartening to see the surge of opposition to this devious scheme, and the unconditional support of our fellow citizens to those at risk of the Modi government’s discriminatory treatment.
As I witnessed during my visits to New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), citizens everywhere are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, forming an impenetrable wall of love and fraternal solidarity against communal-minded elements. Across India, chants of “hum kagaz nahi dikhayenge” — “we will not show our documents” — have filled the air, as citizens prepare for a long and difficult confrontation with powerful forces of oppression. There is reason for hope. We are doing what generations of Indians have always done — fighting for that one ideal that has nourished the republic: freedom.
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And now it is Thiruvananthapuram’s turn.
Living proof of co-existence
This great city in Kerala that we call our home is no stranger to popular movements, well before 1947. Whether it is the non-cooperation movement or the Vaikom Satyagraha, the people of Thiruvananthapuram have always persevered and fought for the idea of India. This is not surprising, because Thiruvananthapuram is a microcosm of India’s incredible cultural and ethnic diversity — it hosts communities of all persuasions, vocations and religions. We embody a society that respects tradition and values progress. From the fisherfolk in Kovalam to the IT whiz kids of Technopark, from the farmers of Varkala and tribal communities in Parassala to the civil servants of Thiruvananthapuram city, we are the living proof of India’s commitment to peacefully co-exist and support each other.
As I have always observed, the presence of a temple, mosque and church, all within a few metres of each other, in Palayam, is a shining monument to Thiruvananthapuram’s pluralism. We have always subscribed to, and upheld the promise enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution of India: the freedom of “thought, belief, faith and worship”.
Walking on Vivekananda’s path
We must now renew the promise that India’s founding fathers have bequeathed upon us. On 29 January, Thiruvananthapuram will host a ‘secular march’ in protest against the CAA, and in solidarity with our fellow citizens being targeted by the Modi government.
The march will begin, fittingly, at the site of Swami Vivekananda’s statue in Kowdiar and conclude at Gandhi Park near the bust of the Mahatma. When Swami Vivekananda walked from Cochin to Kanyakumari, he passed through Travancore. During the unveiling of this great man’s statue in 2013, I had mentioned that the cosmopolitanism of Thiruvananthapuram is the heritage of Swami Vivekananda. His legacy and teachings continue to inspire us. His message that Hinduism has taught the world not only the language of tolerance but of acceptance, and the acceptance of all ways of belief as equally true, still resonates powerfully today.
Swami Vivekananda spoke of his pride in hailing from a country that had long given refuge to the persecuted of all nations and faiths. Today, the BJP government seeks to reduce that proud legacy to three nations and six faiths. It was Swami Vivekananda who spoke of a national “reawakening”: that reawakening is upon us, and it is the responsibility of every citizen to hold the Modi government accountable to its constitutional commitments. Let us walk hand in hand, walk as Swami Vivekananda did across the length and breadth of Travancore, to reclaim the soul of India.
Reaching Gandhi’s doorsteps
After seeking the blessings of Swamiji, the long march will find its way to Gandhi Park, and conclude in the august presence of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue. During the march, we will recount in thought and action, the Mahatma’s commitment to non-violent protest and his fierce resistance to communal forces. The march is not simply a protest against the blatantly immoral actions of the BJP and its government at the Centre: it is a homage to the greatest Indians who lived among us, and represented the high ideals of simplicity, acceptance and tolerance in society.
Thiruvananthapuram, you have always supported me, both in electing me three times to Parliament and in fulfilling my duties towards you, as your representative in the Lok Sabha. I appeal to you once more: let us join forces, and march together on 29 January, to fight for all that India holds dear. This is neither a march for one community nor is it organised by any single institution or political party. This is a people’s march, led by me as your elected representative, to reaffirm Thiruvananthapuram’s place as a beacon of pluralism and cosmopolitanism in India. I cannot do it without your help, and come 29 January, it will be my honour to march alongside you as your fellow citizen and defender of the republic.
The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 19 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor. Views are personal.
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