Several political leaders as well as prejudiced academics, media commentators and activists have repeatedly and provocatively asserted that the CAA is nothing but a step taken towards achieving the goal of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Such statements are in the public domain. Our purpose here is neither to respond to their diatribes on ‘Hindu Rashtra’, nor to enlighten readers citizens about what Hindutva or Hindu Rashtra really means and how the concept of Hindu Rashtra is not inimical to the concept of secularism. That debate can be had at a different time, at an appropriate place. However, it is necessary to point out that the political rivals of the BJP fail to notice the basic difference between the concept of ‘nation’ and the concept of ‘state’. The literal translation of the word ‘rashtra’ is ‘nation’ and not ‘state’. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has always maintained that India is and has always been a Hindu Rashtra. There is no need to declare it to be so by law. Moreover, the definition of the word ‘Hindu’, which was propounded by Veer Savarkar, is also an inclusive one.
This brief reference is made only for the purpose of pointing out that the Opposition and the ‘mainstream’ narrative builders are missing a point. It is wrong to say that this is a step towards ‘Hindu Rashtra’. It is a step towards a policy that rejects appeasement politics, pandering to particular groups, and assuring the rights of those minorities who are facing religious persecution at the hands of extremists, rogue states and agents provocateurs. It is mischievous, if not criminal, to argue that religious minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are not facing religious persecution. It is a part of Indian ethos to welcome persecuted people. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) was formulated, and the CAA enacted in keeping with the great ethos of India.
The Hindu Rashtra argument falls apart for another very important reason: the CAA is not a law that protects only Hindu minorities from the three neighbouring countries, but it is also a conscious attempt to protect the interests of other persecuted groups, including Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Non- inclusion of Muslim groups, as we pointed out in the earlier section, is a logical and valid stance in this context. Minorities among Muslims do not constitute a separate group. They are a subgroup within a larger group. The religions mentioned in the CAA are groups in themselves. The classification is between the larger groups. Moreover, attributing motives to the state would be of no avail while testing the validity of the CAA. The least that is expected of the anti-CAA crusaders is that they present an honest account of history and also of the conflicting ideologies that has brought this situation to a pass.
It is thus clear that the entire debate on the CAA, and the violent protests and the riots that have been engineered are all part of a political scheme aimed at unsettling the BJP government and creating an atmosphere of fear and anxiety in the country. This is not just any old opposition tactics or hypocrisy but political gamesmanship that threatens the very foundations of a democratic India. The strategy of the Opposition and the narrative-builders is to create confusion and chaos in the mind of the common man.
The Opposition parties, in this endeavour, have left no stone unturned, and the vested interests in the media, higher education institutions and activist NGOs, with some dangerous and deep connections to actors and activists outside India, have all contributed to these attempts to derail the present government. Their narrative, spun together by sophisticated and glib wordsmiths, whose ideological blinkers blind them to reality, is not enough to shake this government for the simple reason that their narrative not only is shorn of facts or logic, and is legally unsound, but the majority of Indians reject their attempt to divide India and undermine the great Indian civilizational ethos. The CAA is not against the spirit of the Constitution of India but is, in fact, the nurturing spirit that will strengthen the spirit of the Indian ethos.
The CAA, in its implicit endeavour to subsume a refugee law in its Citizenship Act, has forgotten to give concrete rationale for inclusion of only a few religious groups or countries given the broad contours of persecution.
Border states such as Assam and Tripura have raised serious opposition to the CAA on larger issues than just religion. The Liberation War of 1971 forced millions of citizens to escape the civil war between East and West Pakistan which was genocidal in nature. Mass illegal migrations to Assam, West Bengal and other parts of India to seek refuge turned into grabbing of local resources by the migrants, adding more fuel to the Assam Movement (1979–85). The Assamese felt that their indigenous culture and ethos were threatened by the huge influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, both Hindus and Muslims.
The problem is quite simple, at least in the context of Assam. The entire state is up in arms about outsiders irrespective of religion. The Central Government is seen as giving to all outsiders, excluding Muslims, the right to become citizens and reside anywhere in India and use the country’s limited resources, to the detriment of the pre-existing 138 crore people in India. This addition of people to the population and a compromised economic policy in its current shape will only go on to add burden on the State Exchequer. In Assam’s context, once people from the six religions are identified and granted the status of citizens, there will be no bar to their stay in any other part of Assam that is not covered under the Sixth Schedule. This, in their view, clearly defeats the purpose of NRC in Assam and the objectives of the Assam Accord.
Nationwide implementation of NRC with its baseline date of 31 December 2014, as promised by the current regime, is a perceived threat to the Muslim community who have been excluded from the benefits of the new amendment. There are many potholes in conducting an exercise such as this, to the exclusion of one religious community. India is a vast developing country with a weak institutional framework. A large chunk of the poor may not have documents to verify their religion or their citizenship status as the NRC and CAA would together demand. While people professing any of the the six religions as mentioned in the CAA will gain from not being deported, most Muslims without documents (when the NRC is conducted nationwide) would find themselves at the mercy of the Foreigners Tribunals and the detention centres. The Central Government reiterates at multiple rallies that the existing Muslims in India have nothing to worry about. But does that include those Muslims that have no verification documents and have been living in India for years, let alone generations?
It has been suggested that the NPR, which was first used in 2010 by the UPA government for PDS and other welfare benefits, be updated from April 2020. NPR’s purpose is to include all those who ‘reside’ in India. Residents in the context of NPR is understood to mean those who have been residing in India for the last six months or have the intention of doing so. It records only demographic data such as place of residence, duration, parents’ names, nationality (as declared), etc. While the NPR is only to record proof of residence, NRC is to record proof of citizenship and to detain/deport those who are not citizens.
The Home Minister of India, in December 2019, had said that chronologically, the NPR will come first and then the NRC will be conducted nationwide. He had defended the nationwide NRC by saying that it was needed to weed out ‘all illegal infiltrators’ from India. Incidentally, after a few days, the Prime Minister denied any such nationwide registration by suggesting the lack of discussion on the same. There has, however, not been any indication by the current regime rejecting pan- India NRC. The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 provides for both registration of citizens (NRC) and population register (NPR under Rule 2). This indicates the possible use of NPR in the NRC exercise which has been denied by the Home Minister. The government has insisted that the use of NPR is restricted to understanding the demography, but its purpose is unclear with an existing Census programme. At best, the NPR can be used as a mechanism to identify the residents and when put together with the NRC and CAA, make it easy to exclude the Muslim ‘illegal infiltrators’ since the other ‘migrants’ stand to benefit on account of belonging to one of the specified religions.
This matter is now pending judgement in the Supreme Court but at the outset, the CAA and NRC are seen by many as unreasonable and discriminatory political agenda. If the CAA is upheld by the Supreme Court, several lakh of persons in Assam and an unimaginable number from the rest of the country will have to be deported, to where no one knows. Alternatively, they will have the unedifying choice of life in detention centres or becoming disenfranchised lesser citizens.
Amit Malviya, a former banker, is currently the National Head–Information & Technology of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Salman Khurshid is an Indian politician, designated senior advocate, eminent author and a law teacher.
This excerpt from The Citizenship Debate: CAA & NRC by Amit Malviya and Salman Khurshid has been published with permission from Rupa Publications.
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