Anarrative that was built by the Indian establishment after 1947 depended on a supposedly “secular” character, which trumpeted slogans of supposed “tolerance” and “harmony.” The so-called “largest democracy” in the world was supposed to set an example for developing countries, and at the outset, it was thought remarkable that the country remained a self-styled democracy except for a brief period between 1975 and 1977. But the specter of ultra-nationalism and fascism has always loomed large over the Indian polity, and it has recently come to the fore with vicious force. It is evident both to external observes and internal pundits that India is in the midst of a transition in its narrative from supposedly secular to a full-fledged ultra-nationalist state.
The transition being observed in India is not without staunch resistance, not least from citizen groups and from minority blocs. Their resistance and incessant protests hark to a set of slogans including ‘Saving the Constitution.’ India has seen many high and low points in its post-independence history, but the ongoing turmoil represents a particularly low ebb, gravely damaging India’s global standing as a “functional democracy,”“rising economic dynamo” and a “country for all faiths.” This article discusses the reason for these protests, the underlying fears raised by the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the larger tide of socio-political change in India as an ultranationalist Hindu polity which has left its talk of secularism and pluralism as nothing but a mere husk.
The repulsive face of CAA and NRC:
The Citizen Amendment Act (hereinafter CAA) has amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Citizen Rule of 2004 by providing a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan and having entered India on or before 31 December 2014.This bill, now Act, had been one of the poll promises of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The act in its simplest description provides citizenship to the victims of religious persecution of the aforementioned religious communities except for Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Act also grants fast track Indian citizenship in six years, as opposed to the twelve years of residence that had been the standard eligibility requirement for naturalization.
The CAA is not an isolated act; it is connected with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is a Supreme Court-monitored bureaucratic citizenship exercise (beginning with the state of Assam). The NRC and CAA are both elements of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s larger fascist designs for Indian society. For the NRC, the process to update the register began following a Supreme Court order in 2013, with the state’s nearly 33 million people having to prove that they were Indian nationals before March 24, 1971. The updated final NRC was released on August 31, 2019, and more than 1.9 million applicants failed to make it to the list.
The link between the CAA and NRC is evident in that they together form an exercise whereby every Indian citizen has their citizenship held suspect, guilty until proven innocent, which forces them to actively prove his/her citizenship. Now if Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis or Jains are not able to prove citizenship, for want of documents, they will be granted citizenship automatically as per the law passed by the parliament. But if a Muslim is not able to prove, he or she will be declared an infiltrator. Such Muslims will lose their voting rights and will not be eligible for employment, declared as a second-class citizen. This law threatens to make Muslims stateless in their own country. In the meantime, concentration camps (“detention centres”) are being constructed all over the country to corral such people who will be declared non-citizens through the process.
How CAA violates the constitution of India:
The CAA ring-fences Muslim identity by declaring India a welcome refuge to all other religious communities except for Muslims. It seeks to legally establish Muslims as stateless persons in India by providing preferential treatment to other groups. According to the 42nd amendment in the Indian constitution, India is a secular state and every other religion has equal status. Despite the constitutional guarantees, the Hindu extremists continue to target minorities, especially Muslims and lower-caste Hindus (Dalits). According to local opponents of the Act, the CAA has marred the credibility of the very “idea of India”.
The opposition parties and critics say the CAA violates India’s secular constitution by making religion a marker of citizenship, and have challenged the law in the Supreme Court. The argument is that the act violates Article 14 (Equality before law) and Article 21 (Right to life and liberty)of the Indian constitution. Article 14 permits the reasonable and non-arbitrary classification of persons, however, the CAA discriminates against Muslims by extending citizenship only to the non-Muslims of three foreign countries, and it extends the right to live with dignity to a class of refugees while excluding its application to others including Muslim immigrants (discrimination based on religion) which violates Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
BJP’s divisive strategy and revenge on the Muslims:
The 2019 BJP electoral victory compelled Modi and the company to move towards “Hard Hindutva”. Subsequently, they tampered Muslim personal law, the controversial three talaq act, abrogation of Article 370 and 35 (A), and then the Supreme Court’s verdict on Babri Masjid (Ram Mandir). All these actions, when added with the CAA(2019) is a part of a deeper divisive political strategy to polarise India. The BJP has taken six communities on board except for Muslims, which means that the Muslims are actively singled out. One must take into consideration that the code of any divisive policy is to single out and hunt at ease. In the Act, all major divisive aspects, be it religion, linguistic or regional are present in ample quantity.
Modi has ultimately played the politics of historical revenge on Muslims, which feeds off a fear of Muslim domination over the Hindu populace. The Saffronisation of public places and educational curriculum are also part of that movement to eliminate the presence of the unwanted minorities.
This new piece of the new legislation, by all means, is against the spirit of the Indian Constitution. It stands as unconstitutional as well as discriminatory as it singles out Muslims in a supposedly (and constitutionally-mandated) secular nation of 1.3 billion people, where Muslims form nearly 15 percent of the population. BJP has tried to justify the move using various racist and xenophobic rationales. all of which hold zero merit when held up to logic.
BJP from Soft to Hard Hindutva
The in-depth analysis of CAA would be incomplete without following the alternative discourse of Hindu Nationalism, which is endorsed by the RSS (parent organization of BJP), in denouncing inclusivity and secularism as ‘Minority Appeasement’ and pseudo-secularism that robbed Hindus of their rightful place in Hindu India and left it ‘soft’. The mindset of a Hindu nationalist agenda dwells on the need to restructure the existing Indian patterns for the good of Hindus only, to create a socially hierarchical state, where Hindus must dominate and ‘others’ shall be subordinate. Hindu ethos shall be given primacy and the ‘other’ ethos and history shall stand at the secondary position. The Sangh Parivaar has, with the assistance of the political wing of BJP, laboured to present the path to a Hindu Rastra. The first steps in that path seemed benign, a “soft Hindutva” during the periods of 1998-2004 and then 2014-2018. Gradually creating a Hindu vote bank and a conducive environment for its survival, they proceeded with tougher actions of “Hard Hindutva.”
The Gau-Raksha (Cow protection) movement, love jihad propaganda, ‘ghar-wapsi’ scheme and the entire discourse of Shuddhi movement all exemplify this. It should be noted, however, that wanting to reconvert the Muslims and Christians of Hindu origin back to Hinduism is neologism because there is no theological concept of reconversion in Hinduism.
Contribution of Indian Muslims
There is no need to look back at the immense civilizational contribution of the Muslims of Hindustan over the eight past centuries. Even in the post-1947 period, the Muslim minority of India has, despite immense discrimination and hostility, sought to find a place in society and make due contributions to society. Difficult as it may be for the hard-line Hindutva to accept, the Muslims of modern India have played a large role in science, politics, bureaucracy, film, music, entrepreneurship, theatre, business, academics, and sports. However, the hardliners in India, and increasingly a larger polity that voted the BJP into power, considers these Muslims to be a hangover legacy of 1947 that failed to find its proper place: somewhere else. Oftentimes, the suspect loyalty of Indian Muslims forced them into a position that they had to bend over backwards to demonstrate their allegiance in cartoonish ways, most notably by denouncing Pakistan with which they might otherwise have no quarrel – the mere pressure to conform in a hostile environment would put them at odds with their brethren on the other side of the border simply to survive. That earlier seemingly comical kowtowing to their Hindu overseers shall, it now seems, serve them nought.
A vicious slogan has been making the rounds on social media and in the streets of India: Musalman ke do hi Stan, Qabaristan ya Pakistan. In effect, the fears that the All-India Muslims League expressed pre-1947 about the place of the Mussalman in post-colonial India have come largely true. With visionary perspective and tireless zeal, the leader of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, struggled through a democratic process to found a separate homeland where the Muslims would not be subjugated to the nightmares that would unfold in India, as indeed they are now in the era of Hard Hindutva. Meanwhile, the farce of secularism in India has begun to tear at the seams.
Three underestimated factors
How far can the wrath of the irredentist Hindu nationalists go? Modi and his cabal have successfully generated the false fear of Muslim domination over the Hindu populace in a manner that might be compared with McCarthyism and its paranoia. Yet there are three factors which might lead to Modi’s failure, and the survival of the Indian republic, pertaining to the social, economic, and political. The social element is that massive protests have broken out across India in retaliation against the hostilities of the BJP. The Jamia and Shaheen Bagh protests depict a site of popular resistance, and several millions of Indians have hit the streets demanding the withdrawal of CAA, chanting the slogans of ‘Save the Constitution’ and ‘People unity, long live’. As with the Indian brutality in the disputed territory of Kashmir, the state’s response has been iron-fisted, but unlike in Kashmir, the problem hasn’t been militarized (yet). On political grounds, the BJP is losing state elections, signaling that many people are turning to the ballot to stop the unfolding of the Hindu Rashtra. As an example, in Delhi the the Aam Aadmi Party (hereinafter AAP) has won elections in the Capital (Delhi) against BJP. AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal had worked on service delivery including Mohalla Clinics and School Reforms since 2018 but BJP had relied largely on hollow Anti-Pakistan and Anti-Congress rhetoric. On the economic front, India’s economy is now in shambles, with a flight of foreign capital, slumping local demand, credit crises and monetary crunch, low consumer confidence, and even runs on the banks. Perhaps most frightening of all, unofficial estimates of the joblessness crisis in India suggest that more than one-third of all young workers in India cannot find any employment. With such a dismal economic performance, the BJP might well be sending India’s youth to the Qabaristan, and for all its problems, leaving the youth jealous of the structural reforms being undertaken in a more upbeat Pakistan.
On one hand,due to this bizarre and outrageous legal act, the sense of hopelessness and dispossession among India’s Muslims is growing. On the other, the CAA and NRC pose a serious threat to India’s peace and social stability. The manipulative strategies of BJP may add a few more years to the BJP’s political power, but the potential of division and chaos it could create within the society will have devastating longer-term effects. There is even talk of a second partition in India, as the communal rifts grow so large as to prove irreparable. Conflicts in democratic societies are resolved in the parliament; the BJP is not for conflict resolution but the imposition of its fanatical agenda. The core philosophy of BJP and RSS is knitted on the pathological hatred for Muslims but there is one thing that needs to be taken under consideration by Modi and his clan, that the memory of oppressed is one thing that cannot be taken away and with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface. Ultimately, the vision of the Two Nation Theory, which created a separate homeland for the Muslims, stands as a living theory, liberating those who opted for Pakistan, at great personal and collective sacrifice, from the clutches of subjugation and humiliation that are tearing the Muslims of India asunder. The CAA and NRC are simply instruments of a larger Hindu ultra-nationalist fantasy, one which the forefathers of Pakistan warned against in prescience. The degree to which the Indian Muslims are further subjugated and forced to kowtow, and yet face hardship and exclusion, is yet to be seen.