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Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests turned violent in different parts of Assam earlier in December
Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests turned violent in different parts of Assam earlier in December|File image
OPINION

CAA protests: Where are we headed?

Today, anyone who denounces the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is considered a traitor, who should find a place for themselves in Pakistan

Patricia Mukhim

Patricia Mukhim

The violence and mayhem created by the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) inside the JNU campus on January 5 is unprecedented. That the Delhi Police functioning under the direction of the union home ministry was complicit goes without saying. It’s a sad day that an institution of higher learning known for its intellectual capital has now become a battle field not of ideas but of fisticuffs. Where has all this intolerance and bellicosity spring from?

Students and a section of alumni of JNU that have taken positions that leaned to the Left ideology have been labelled “tukde tukde gang” and “urban naxals”. This labelling is then used as a justification to attack those labelled because they are not considered nationalistic enough to merit their place in the sun. In fact, today anyone who denounces the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is considered a traitor, who should find a place for themselves in Pakistan. Such is the polarisation of ideas that even personal relationships have deteriorated to a point of no return. Even among families there is a sharp divide as far as political views are concerned. Never before have Indians been so divided by ideology.

We did not arrive at this juncture sleepwalking. The BJP ideology is known to all. It believes in consolidating Hindu votes by selling the idea that Pakistan and later Bangladesh was created for Muslims and that India then is legitimately the abode of Hindus, where they should have primacy over others. The Congress that ruled this country with short interruptions for nearly 70 years was seen as pandering to Muslim sensitivities, again for nurturing the vote bank of that community. It is only in India that Muslim pilgrims travelling to Mecca are given a free ride.

This was bound to have repercussions. It was bound to raise questions as to why only people of one religion are able to make a pilgrimage at the taxpayer’s cost. Indians of other religions could have demanded the same and there would have been no end to such entitlements. In short, political parties that have ruled this country have never really internalised the true meaning of “secularism,” which means that the state remains equi-distant from all religions and yet allows each one to promote and conserve their respective faiths.

Now we have come to a flashpoint where being Muslim is like being a second class citizen on account of the resurgence of Hindu nationalism. How religion and nationalism or patriotism are linked is quite baffling but there are many enlightened Hindus today that buy this concept and don’t think too differently from the ruling conglomerate – the NDA today.

The NDA under Atal Behari Vajpayee promoted soft Hindutva which was non-aggressive and did not put non-Hindus on notice. This had alienated the RSS which is the vote manufacturing machine of the BJP. Without the RSS whose networks are deeply rooted across the country, the BJP stands no chance of winning elections. However, the state elections in several states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand etc, are pointers to the fact that even the RSS is not invincible and the religio-cultural chauvinism promoted by the organisation does not appeal to every Indian. Economics does and real issues such as job creation, livelihoods and farmers’ issues matter much more than simply rising the wave of Hindutva.

It is ironic that the loss suffered by the BJP in several states has not made it circumspect. Perhaps this is the arrogance of power which makes politicians feel impregnable. Instead of pulling back and introspecting the Modi-Shah duo are on a roll. In fact the NDA government today looks like it is being run by only two persons. Everyone else is commenting on the sidelines. The main actors are calling the shots and how!

In fact, things are set to become more brittle as home minister Amit Shah decides to push right ahead with the grand idea of implementing the CAA across the nation. He has made it amply clear that the Modi government will brook no opposition to this project. As a political party the BJP has shown incredible tenacity in fulfilling its poll promises one by one. The party believes that if it has been voted to power on the basis of those promises which were widely circulated vide its manifesto then it goes without saying that those must be vigorously pursued. The problem is that the BJP won only 37.36% of the votes totalling 303 seats.

The BJP and allies together won 353 seats which is 45% of the 60.37 crore votes that were polled. This means that over 55 % of voters were either split between different political parties that have not formed a united opposition front or they have voted for none of the candidates. This is the travesty of democracy. The party or alliance partners with the single largest majority get to form the government irrespective of the percentage of votes polled. That government then implements its political agenda without calling for a national debate. Perhaps a time has come for India’s polity to go for a referendum on a political issue of such far reaching consequences such as the CAA which actually discredits the secular nature of the Indian Constitution by using religion as a criterion for granting Indian citizenship.

The general outcry across the country against the implementation of the CAA followed by NRC should actually halt the BJP in its tracks, rather than labelling the protestors as anti-nationals, urban naxals and such other pejorative phrases. Although right wing politics seems to have gained ground across the world, such blatant disregard for public opinion and public protests that have now sustained for a month should make any political party step back and reconsider its stance. Instead the BJP led by two of its most voluble top guns seems determined to quash public opinion and voices of dissent. This is exacerbated by the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath whose unabashed commitment towards the Hindutva project is a threat to the diversity of India. He has unleashed a reign of terror to silence the protestors in UP and is using the police force for this malevolent objective.

The present protests are a battle to reclaim India’s soul. The BJP instead has taken it as a challenge to its objective of furthering the cause of Hindutva. It is unfortunate that pro-BJP intellectuals are accusing those against the CAA as being ignorant, brainwashed socialists. Not all the people on the streets today are ideological bigots. Many more are out there because they believe in the sanctity of the Indian Constitution, above all. Political egotism will ultimately be defeated by the very process of democracy. No political party can take the voters for granted for too long.

Meanwhile the countrywide protests continue to draw more citizens. In Meghalaya, the JNU alumni association called for a protest on January 8 and caricatured Prime Minister Modi and home minister Amit Shah with masked faces and the slogan is “Iron Will VS Iron Rods.” The JNU fracas was so unnecessary but the Hindutva bosses had to flex their muscles. Social media says many of the vehicles parked outside the JNU campus had UP registration numbers. This sounds credible since UP is ruled by another bigot in saffron robes who is not used to the culture of dissent.

Yogi Adityanath has used the police force of his state to silence dissent in the Aligarh Muslim University and other academic spaces. This entire design to push through the CAA irrespective of public antagonism to it, is an indication that more such laws would follow in the future. The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) might be the next action plan of the Modi-Shah combine, even as other ministers clap from the sidelines. If that happens then perhaps even Sunday might no longer be considered sacrosanct.

The question then is: how far are Modi and Shah willing to dig in their heels to fulfil the agenda chalked out by the likes of Veer Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar and will India continue to remain one nation. Let’s not forget that the quest for uniformity is what has resulted in the balkanisation of the USSR and other countries. India is too diverse a nation to conform to one code, one language, one religion, one culture. It is actually many nations that have come together because of the idea of secularism and respect for multiple cultures and faiths. To undo this is to trash the idea of India as envisaged by its founding fathers.

(Patricia Mukhim is a social activist, writer, journalist and the editor of The Shillong Times. Recipient of various honours of national and international repute, she was also bestowed with the Padma Shri in 2000 by the government of India. She tweets at @meipat. Views expressed above are her own)