The alacrity with which Union Home Minister Amit Shah has pushed the new Citizenship Amendment Bill through the two Houses of Parliament reflects the determination of the Modi regime to implement its larger national agenda in its current tenure — unfazed by the ramblings of a disparate opposition. For decades, this country witnessed a polity of permissive corruption, majority-minority divide and unwillingness to deal with the lingering problems of Kashmir, illegal migrants and faith-based militancy.
After adopting an unambiguous policy towards Pakistan that ruled out talks with this roguish neighbour — unless it stopped cross-border terrorism against India — and getting Article 370 abrogated through an Act of Parliament to pave the way for the Centre to take direct responsibility for the development and security of the crucial border state, the government has now made a bold announcement through the CAB that members of the long-persecuted Hindu minority of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan driven to taking shelter in India, would be granted membership of this country on a preferential basis. Interestingly, all these path-breaking policy measures of India are likely to continue receiving a response of understanding from the world community even as they came in for criticism from sections of the opposition at home.
The contrast between the fast-moving ways of this government and the inhibitive, lacklustre and ambiguity-ridden approaches of the earlier regimes would not go unnoticed by the observant citizens of this country. The rampant corruption prevalent at the top then is largely gone — Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet colleagues have not invited questions on personal integrity even though not all of the ministers had created an image of leadership and efficiency. It is in the sphere of domestic politics that the opposition — starving for numbers — has taken to ‘vote bank’ appeal to the Muslims somewhat in a blatant fashion, having made a stark calculation that in a situation of caste and regional divides afflicting the majority community, consolidating the large Muslim minority for votes would effectively counter the political gains of the BJP.
The Congress leadership shunned recognising the fact of India being a Hindu majority nation and forgot that in a democracy run on the principle of ‘one man one vote’, the demographic distribution of communities did not affect any citizen so long as the elected political executive did not carry a denominational stamp and the state provided same development and legal protection to all. The opposition coined the term ‘majoritarianism’ to imply that a democratic governance in a Hindu majority country would not be able to safeguard the minorities.
It is because of this pre-occupation with minority politics that in the years before the advent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, the government followed a warped policy on strategically important issues like Pakistan, Kashmir and illegal migrations. There was no good reason for the government of the day not to express deep indignation over 26/11 and not respond to the horrendous attack on Mumbai organised from Karachi, with at least a suspension of talks with Pakistan. It seems the soft approach to Pakistan was conditioned by a strange notion that tough handling of Pakistan would not sit well with the Indian Muslims. The same thinking runs through the opposition’s responses on Kashmir. The world recognises — not only the Indian Parliament –that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India.
The dispute with Pakistan — rooted in the illegal occupation of what is POK, by Pakistan — is at best a ‘territorial’ matter and certainly not a ‘Muslim issue’ as Pakistan claims it to be on the strength of the state’s Muslim majority. The opposition has not only gone along with this communal approach for a state that houses multiple faiths but assiduously abstained from denouncing Pak ISI-sponsored cross-border terrorism in the Valley. They have not faulted the Valley-based political parties for colluding with the pro-Pak separatists for gaining power and for advocating talks with Pakistan even for maintaining internal order against stone pelters. The deterioration in Kashmir was, apart from terrorist violence, also due to the misgovernance of a corrupt local leadership which could not identify and pick up Pak agents behind the organised stone pelting. Kashmir is a matter concerning all Indians — why is the opposition linking it to Indian Muslims in a manner that puts the latter on the side of Pakistan’s communal claims?
The debate in Parliament on CAB has seen the opposition led by the Congress taking a stand that it might regret in the days to come. This legislation specifically seeks to safeguard the Hindus who were compelled to leave the Islamic states of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan because of the atrocities they were subjected to as non-Muslims — the Taliban-led Emirate of Afghanistan installed at Kabul by Pakistan in 1996 had become particularly notorious in this regard. The pilloried Hindus naturally chose to seek shelter in India as their country of origin. Their arrival in India does not alter the status of Indian Muslims as the equal citizens of this democratic country and the grant of citizenship to the non-Muslim refugees, including Christians, is by no means at the cost of our Muslim minority.
The Congress narrative, branding the Indian action and not the doings of the neighbouring Islamic states as ‘communal’, beats logic but more than that it makes the Congress look totally heartless towards the suffering of the Hindus and exposes its blind pro-Muslim politics — considering the fact that it is the Muslim leadership in this country that primarily took offence to the legislation. No doubt the matter has a bearing on Assam and the North-East where illegal migration of Muslims mainly from Bangladesh — prompted by economic reasons — had been a known problem. Home Minister Amit Shah, while presenting the Bill, made two politically clinical points: that an Islamic State does not have a Muslim minority and that there has to be a difference made between ‘refugees’ and ‘infiltrants’. However, it can also not be denied that both had to receive humane treatment and care till, after identification, they were either granted citizenship or deported. In this interregnum they would not be eligible for voting.
These issues related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) may become the subject matter of an acrimonious debate but the CAB’s objective stands on its own as an unexceptional initiative of Indian democracy — that also happened to be the home of Hindus. Denunciation of this legislation by our own opposition parties, just because it might add to the BJP’s political numbers in elections, draws attention first and foremost to their insensitivity towards the uncalled for atrocities committed by our neighbouring countries in the name of religion. Also, this connects with the outcome of Partition of India on communal lines that saw a million innocent people dying in riots. It would, therefore, be extremely unwise of the critics of the Bill to oppose it in the name of India’s Muslim minority whose fortunes as Indian citizens with full personal, socio-cultural and political rights stood totally assured in India. Domestic politics here should steer clear of communal tracks and the Ulema and the elite guiding the community should try to keep it that way in the interest of our democracy.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)