Protests against the proposed nationwide NRC and Citizenship Amendment Act escalated Thursday in Delhi, Bengaluru, parts of Uttar Pradesh and other cities despite CrPC Section 144 imposed in certain parts of the country. Historian Ramachandra Guha, activists Yogendra Yadav and Harsh Mander along with numerous students have been detained in the national capital. Internet and calling services were also snapped in parts of Delhi.
ThePrint asks: Did Modi govt underestimate protests against CAA, NRC or have critics walked into its trap?
Modi govt expected opposition from political parties against CAA, NRC, but not from civil society
Associate Professor, CSDS
The BJP had made a commitment in its manifestos to both the CAA and the NRC. The purpose was obvious: it wanted to nurture its Hindu vote bank. In a post-election situation, such divisive measures are employed to consolidate the Hindu-Muslim binary in India.
The government introduced the CAA as if it wasn’t going to adversely affect the Muslim community. At the same time, the BJP kept emphasising that this should be linked to the NRC.
The opposition to CAA and the NRC has two clear aspects. First, there are opposition parties, which are playing their own games. The entire political class, it appears, is interested in utilising the Hindu-Muslim binary created by the government on CAA and NRC.
But protests are also being organised by other groups. Civil society organisations, students, intellectuals and people from all walks of life are opposing CAA and NRC by questioning the established Hindu-Muslim binary. In a way, they are actually underlining the anti-people and the anti-constitution attitude of the Modi government.
We must remember that CAA has been intentionally introduced to distract people from the real issues India is facing. The political class has already embraced the framework given by the government. The Modi government, it seems, would have expected some kind of restricted resistance from opposition parties.
However, the state didn’t expect opposition from civil society, which is posing fundamental questions about India’s political existence as a constitutional democracy. This assertion of civil society is going to determine the political fate of India in the near future.
Modi and Shah believe every protester is only helping their image as saviours of the proposed Hindu Rashtra
The protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), in spirit if not in scale, are exactly what Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah wanted. This is the real Gujarat model: divide, polarise, excise.
Just as according to the Gujarat narrative, Godhra sparked the 2002 Gujarat riots, Modi-Shah believe protests against the CAA and the NRC will see a long-term impact of reducing Muslims to second-class citizens in India, as they are in Gujarat.
Modi-Shah are only following the RSS agenda: stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status with the dilution of Article 370, criminalisation of triple talaq, Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, moving towards a Uniform Civil Code, the new citizenship law in conjunction with the promise to extend Assam’s NRC to the rest of India. Modi and Shah believe that every protester helps them further their image as the twin saviours of the proposed Hindu Rashtra.
The more the “tukde tukde gang”, “Urban Naxals”, “jihadis”, and “psecs” (pseudo secularists) rise in revolt, the more they solidify their image as “the other”, which is precisely what the Hindutva heroes want. This is the remaking of India in their image, where Muslim vote-bank politics will be considered political hara-kiri.
Gujarat was the laboratory for the harvest of hatred, and India will be the factory where the hatred for Muslims and other marginalised communities will be manufactured on a mass scale.
Opposing groups would have walked into Modi govt’s trap if they had viewed it as a Hindu-Muslim issue
Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
The Modi government has definitely underestimated the opposition’s response to CAA. There are three kinds of oppositions at play here.
First, the opposition parties, which haven’t done a good enough job of mobilising people. Second, civil society and citizens, who are now on the streets. The third opposition is coming up on different axes of mobilisation on CAA and NRC. Northeast India’s protests against CAA and NRC are very different from the ones in north India or south India.
The BJP may have anticipated some of this, but it did not certainly expect the current magnitude of protests and various quarters from where anger is pouring in. Fortunately, this has not become a Hindu-Muslim issue because this may have benefitted the BJP in the short run. In the background, there is also another factor at play, namely the economic slowdown.
Lately, the BJP hasn’t met its own electoral expectations in both Haryana and Maharashtra. Moreover, it seems that the party is having a difficult time in Jharkhand and forthcoming Delhi assembly elections. With the economic slowdown and the social unrest building up, the BJP and the Modi government may lose the upper hand in the narrative very soon.
This is a boiling pot of issues and may get out of hand, which will not be good for India’s democratic health as well as the country’s image in the international community. It will also hurt the business and investment climate that will further deepen the economic crisis. India is heading for very uncertain times.
A small section of Indians feel for migrants and oppose CAA
Senior fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
I don’t think the Modi government has underestimated these protests. In fact, Modi and Amit Shah were counting on it. The more people outrage over the CAA and the proposed pan-India NRC, the more it would work in the Modi government’s favour.
It will also help the government project the protesters as those in support of illegal immigration.
One must also understand that there is a difference between the narratives of the English and the vernacular media. The vernacular press caters to an audience that is expected to be more nationalistic in spirit.
For the audience of English media, the concept of a nation is an imagined identity. But for the vernacular audience, it is connected to the idea of India and Bharat Mata. It doesn’t affect them individually, which is why they will remain unconcerned with the opposition to the CAA.
There have been public protests in India on key issues in the past. But those who feel for the migrants and are opposing the CAA – there are not more than 15 per cent of them – hold a very esoteric point of view.
The rest of the population will want what they did in Kashmir’s case – to throw them out.
Mishandling of protests, Section 144 show nervousness of Modi government
Professor and author
The Narendra Modi government underestimated public resentment against CAA and NRC. And it isn’t merely about these two issues, but also about the accumulated anger of the youth that is bursting out.
The Modi government has tried very hard to divert attention from its failures, mostly on economy and governance. But people are now beginning to see through it.
The citizenship law violates the spirit of the Constitution. These protests are taking place because of these violations. Professional institutions have tried to keep away from it and not fall into this trap. The Modi government did lay the trap, but people don’t seem to be falling for it.
Even in the case of Jamia Millia Islamia protests, evidence suggests students did not resort to violence. I don’t understand the Modi government’s need to impose Section 144 in some parts of the country. This kind of mishandling just shows the nervousness of the government.
Moreover, there was absolutely no need for the police to detain people like Ramachandra Guha in Bengaluru, who was just standing with a placard. Can’t people protest anymore in India?
To my mind, it is not just about this particular issue. It is about the larger bungling practicality of the government on every front. The brewing discontent among the people of India has begun to manifest now.
By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint