Anti-CAA protests: A ticking ignorance bomb and a sheer vandalism with truth

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Dec 21, 2019, 01.46 PM(IST) Written By: Krishna Kumar

File photo: Photograph:( Reuters )

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As the voice against the Act gets shriller by each passing day, two questions become important – (a) what the protesters are protesting against? And (b) who are the people spreading misinformation and malicious lies against the Act or what are their objectives?

As the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) becomes a law in India, opposition to it is growing far and wide across the nation. The December 19th protest against the law across India, accompanied with violence, arson and destruction of public properties in many cities came up as a surprise for the security establishments because violence, arson and stone-pelting had been used in an organized and methodical way everywhere. It points towards the presence of a systemic strategy effectively coordinated by local handlers as per a larger plan.

Once a localized protest movement, confined to the territories of Assam and Tripura – the two states, slated to face the maximum impact of the legislation – the movement traversed to Bengal and UP to eventually knock at the gates of Delhi, where a violent protest against the CAA, allegedly by the Jamia Millia students not only ushered violence in Delhi but it also fanned the protest to many other Universities and educational institutions across the nation. Maybe for the first time since the anti-mandal protests, students across Universities in India came out on roads protesting against a single cause.

With students latching onto it, the protest that was once limited to the domain of politicians and intellectuals has broadened its base and has gained strength. Many opinion-makers from the Bollywood and the intelligentsia have also thrown their hats in the ring by speaking both against the CAA and the police action, casting deep aspersions on the law. However, no matter whether the voice is from those compulsive opinion-makers from the Bollywood or from the man-in-the-street, most of them are dismally opinionated and miserably short on facts. It was flabbergasting to find some self-styled liberals from the Bollywood to openly accuse the Delhi police itself of arsons and destruction of the public property, contrary to the facts and evidences in public domain. How did they know this? Obviously, they’re speaking for their prejudices, which is nothing but a sheer vandalism with truth.

As the voice against the Act gets shriller by each passing day, two questions become important – (a) what the protesters are protesting against? And (b) who are the people spreading misinformation and malicious lies against the Act or what are their objectives?

The first question is, of course, the foremost – what the protesters are protesting at? Well, as any person with little understanding on the Act will tell you, this Act is never what the protesters mean it to be – discriminatory and against the Muslims.

It’s bemusing to see people at street protests being asked why they're opposing the law. None of the protesters interviewed on television channels or reported in newspapers have a clear understanding as to what exactly the Act is. The person, mostly from the Muslim rank and file, would work up his passion and shout that the law was against the Muslims. They believe that the new law is aimed at targeting the Muslims and disenfranchising them as citizens of India. But, the CAA is never this! As explained many times by many people – and, most notably by the Home Minister himself, during the debate in Rajya Sabha – that, the bill was meant to give citizenship to people and not to take it away from anyone.

A simple reading of the provisions of this Act would tell anyone that the law intends to give citizenship rights by naturalization to six religious minority groups – Hindu, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis – emigrating from the three neighbouring countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan - escaping religious persecutions. It doesn't contain any clause intending to take away citizenship from any Muslim. So, how does a benign Act with an entirely different intent become anti-Muslim?

On further prodding, the protesters would assert that the law intends to ask Muslims to prove their citizenship by producing documents, and if the same is found to be lacking or discrepant, their citizenship will be annulled. The fear is rampant among the Muslims and the spectre of being disenfranchised from citizenship looks real to them. But, are they at fault if they feel so?

Most of the protesters have mixed up CAA and NRC – the National Register of Citizens. They take the two as the same, unable to tell one from the other. But, how it happened? This is where the second question becomes important- who are the people spreading misinformation and malicious lies around the Act and what are their objectives?

The kind of lies that the Muslim common man is flooded with, and the fear he's possessed with, has much to do with the misinformation they're being dished out by certain vested interests. Before exploring further, it's important to understand the dynamics of 'ignorance' and its latent power in modern democracies.

It's said that ignorance is bliss, but for some of the wily humans, the bliss is even more; ignorance is a foxy means that enables some men to mobilize people round mistaken causes and helps them in building mass movements around such causes. In democracies, ignorance is a weapon in the hands of few shrewd leaders to mobilize masses in the interests of the former. To put it in a better way, democracy is a system of governance where ignorance is used as a WMD - a weapon of mass 'deception' - by few foxy leaders for opportunistic opinion management.

Ignorance is an attribute that happens to be evenly distributed among the population, irrespective of their education or income standards, meaning ignorance has nothing to do with one’s education or income levels. No wonder that, in emotions and contents, the opinions of those starry-eyed Bollywood deities are hardly different from those of the plebeians on the street, though the language and expressions of the former may sound more creative and upmarket. Both the plebeians and the celebrities carry many other similarities as well - neither of the two speak on facts; while the former’s understanding is consumed by their emotions, the latter’s by their prejudices; while the former doesn’t have the capacity to read and be aware, the latter doesn’t have the willingness. Hence, both go on spreading their ignorance and unawareness and strengthen the misconceptions. This way, both the classes become handy tools in the hands of few humbugs from politics and intelligentsia who find immense political opportunities in this.

In the case of the CAA, cashing upon the ignorance of the multitude, such wily leaders are spreading lies, misinformation and canards with the obvious intentions to gain political mileage. Such people revel in the ignorance of the masses and treat them as an asset that needs to be maximized for best results, hence, they would never tell the ignorant masses what the Act is all about and what it is not. In the CAA protests, such politicians, intellectuals and thought leaders have got the thin end of a long wedge to drive it deeper into the ruling dispensation to weaken its moral authority to rule over a ‘secular’ India.

Hence, ignorance is a lethal bomb in democratic societies that flattens reason, neutralizes facts and kills all chances of an informed debate in a polarized society. CAA is one such ignorance bomb all set to rip India apart – not only because of the persistent efforts of those shrewd opinion makers to spread misinformation among uninformed masses but also because of the governments inability to rise to the occasion by spreading awareness. 

As its well known now, the main force behind inciting the Muslim masses are few political parties, mainly the Congress, TMC, the left parties and AIMIM. Congress, resurgent after denying BJP a chance to form government in Maharashtra, is looking into the anti-CAA movement a huge political opportunity for itself to gain its lost political grounds across India, and believes that the CAA has provided it the necessary shot-in-the-arm to position itself as defenders of Muslims and of constitutional morality in India. No wonder, a Digvijay Singh is reminding people of Gujarat of 2002 and a Chidambaram is conjuring up imageries of ghettos, detention centers and concentration camps for Muslims! Where did they read this! There’s no official announcement or statement of the government anywhere or any official pronouncement on the scope, modality, roadmap or modus operandi for a nationwide NRC yet. Then, where these detention centers came from? Obviously, it came from their individual prejudices that they’re fanning out as a certainty to serve their sinister political ends.  

The movement to vandalize truth is further supported by a clutch of few organized groups with avowedly anti-India agenda. Among such organized groups are the various leftist outfits and activist groups, working in tandem with the Islamist-Jihadist organizations that carry a long record of working against the nationalistic interests. The arrest of the President and press secretaries of the Assam unit of Popular Front of India (PFI) - an Islamic extremist organization known for strong links with the banned SIMI - on charges of inciting violence, is an eye-opener. PFI, headquartered in Delhi, has presence in 24 states of India, and is alleged for violent activities, like possession of arms, hate campaigns, rioting and other acts of religious extremism since its foundation in 2006. PFI, alongwith, few local Muslim outfits, is suspected to be behind anti-CAA violence and arson reported from several cities in India. Further, the arrest of Akhil Gogoi, the founder of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti by the NIA in Jorhat points to the involvement of Maoists in the movement, as Gogoi is known for Maoist links in Assam. The arrest of the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad, the perennial trouble maker arrested many times in the past for rioting, arson and spreading hatred, from Delhi is an initial pointer to the fact that the leftist-Jihadist outfits have joined hands to protest against the CAA as they find it a god-sent opportunity to challenge the aura and credibility of the Modi government in a never-before manner.

The leftist-Jihadi collaboration in India is a long-standing ambition of the two groups for a larger project that is aimed at limiting, undermining and counteracting any nationalist drift that happens under the Modi government that peddles a nationalistic agenda for India. The collaboration of the two is existential for them as it is a well-known fact that both the left and the Islamist movements are internationalist in nature that doesn't ideologically believe in the boundaries of nations or of national identity in any form and hates all symbols of national pride. They fantasize that the world should be, in the words of Jcques Derrida, "without country, without national community, without co-citizenship, without common belonging to a class-identity". Nationalism, naturally is the ideological anti-thesis of both pan-Islamism and the left, because any expansion of nationalist ideas would run deep against the ethos of leftist-Islamist internationalism. 

Though there is hardly any point of convergence between the ideologies of Islam and the left, both are united in their fight against nationalism – the common enemy. Naturally, a fight to finish Modi and other nationalist forces in India would be their Armageddon. No wonder, the two stand united against the CAA, which in reality is a part of their larger existential fight against Modi. Hence, we're yet to witness a prolonged war against the CAA by a co-ordinated leftist-Islamist strategists with more and more violence. 

Here, the left is only using the Muslim anger and fear to its own advantage, knowing very well that despite all their noises around the CAA being anti-constitutional, the Act would sail through the Supreme Court passing the test of constitutionality. If a law, passed through the constitutional process by the parliament, is believed by any party to be unconstitutional, they're free to take it to the courts that will examine the matter and settle the constitutional position once for all. However, it won't serve the purpose of the left, as it knows that the legal process would take months to settle the issue. Hence, hitting the street cashing upon the immediate angers of the Muslims, and the resultant rioting and violence would help the leftist forces internationalize the perceived 'discriminatory' law and also the state's 'repressions' against the 'citizens'. This will help them project in the west that the nationalist Modi has undermined the shared values of India with the west, such as liberalism, freedom, dissent and human rights. No wonder taking to streets of known leftists, such as Ramchandra Guha, who till now felt that his pen was mightier than the revolutionary sword, betrays the level of desperation of the leftists and those many shrill voices from the Bollywood. 

However, as per the established global studies and research, it needs to be mentioned that violence in democratic movements is seldom successful. It's often counterproductive as violence by protesters reduces public support for the causes they represent. Stephan and Chenoweth (2008) after analysing large set of data from around 300 protest movements against political regimes found that “non-violent movements with many innovative ideas of resistance have been more effective in winning domestic and international support.” Other studies have proved that violence puts off common people and public support wanes as the protesters employ violent tactics, causing damage to the perceived legitimacy of the protesters, and therefore rarely justifiable.

Violent protests across India would certainly serve the cause of few self-serving leaders from politics, intelligentsia and other groups, however, it would be extremely counterproductive for the common protesters in the street, innocently unaware of the shenanigans of their handlers. This is a fact that, barring some local politicians and activists, the majority of the protesters are Muslims, who, through their violent protests, run a risk of losing public support as well as legitimacy for their protests. More dangerously, they run a strong risk of converting the cause of NRC into a Muslim-Hindu issue, which in any case it's never.

If and when the nationwide NRC is ever implemented, a member from any other religion as well – no matter whether a Hindu or a Sikh or a Jain - would be subjected to the same set of rules of inclusion or exclusion from it as would be a Muslim, and will have the same set of reliefs and safeguards available to him/her. Neither the CAA nor the NRC has anything against any citizens of India, least against the Muslims. Communalizing the whole debate through systemic violence and arsons on the streets would be the least desirable thing for the community as it will result into counter-polarization of opinions. Any impression of a minority community with just 15% population share holding the country to ransom through threats of violence and arson, may not go down well the larger citizenry. The silent majority, sitting at home and voting Modi to a landslide victory for such decisions, may find enough reasons, and justified fears, to rally behind Modi for counter measures. Such polarization may have been the desired goal of few leaders from their community with their own interest in mind, but this will be the worst thing for the larger Muslim community in the long run.

The Muslim community had many issues that had troubled them over the past some time – the successive victories of Modi, the triple talaq law and the Ram Mandir verdict – however, they couldn't afford to react over any of these nor expect to get support from other quarters. But, the CAA-NRC issue has given the community a congruous channel to vent their cumulative angers, and so the community thought leaders are using this opportunity to utilize the anger and direct the same against Modi. Hence, by dishing out misinformation and pernicious lies to their unaware followers, the radical Muslim leadership is using the culture of ignorance in the society as a live bomb.

All the anti-Modi forces of India, whether from politics or the intelligentsia or the media or the Bollywood - long on the look for any strong issue to pin him down - are galvanized by this unexpected opportunity. Interestingly, the face of this protest are the same set of people, who opposed Modi in 2014 elections, opposed demonetization, fanned intolerance debate, supported urban naxals and remained a part of the award wapasi gang and the various signature gangs. However, all the earlier projects had fizzled up in smoke.

Riding on the strength of the disinformation campaigns, these leaders expect support swelling for them in an unprecedented manner - something that couldn't happen even in the thick of demonetization – as, even the NDA allies are successively expressing their reservation against NRC. However, what the political opponents are missing is that this is leading the discourse to a binary of Modi-versus-all that none of them would love to happen. It may lead to strong polarizations in favour of Modi and his lieutenant Shah, who has carved out for himself the image of the latest, and greatest, poster boy of the new-age Hinduism. Will the opposition be able to afford this?

However, the Opposition-left-Islamist alliance, in its existential Armageddon, would go to any extent in their protests against the CAA and NRC, because in these protests, they find a now-or-never opportunity to finish Modi.

The way out for the government from here, is two-fold: one, mass sensitization about what the CAA and the NRC mean and what they don't. A vigorous awareness campaign has been missing till now. Even the Supreme Court has pointed it now to the government. The ticking bomb of ignorance needs to be diffused.  Along-with it, what's needed most is to listen to some of the genuine concerns of the opponents, like what will happen if a bonafide citizen – poor or illiterate – is not able to produce any record for identification, or whether there would be any detention centres for illegal settlers in the post-NRC regime, and so on. 

A straight and cogent reply to such apprehensions would go a long way in pacifying some of the genuine concerns of the opponents, leading to better understanding and confidence about the process. If there are apprehensions in the minds of the people regarding documentations, the government must come up with weaving safeguards into the exercise. It’s good for the government to face a movement at this point of time, as no official pronouncement of any kind has happened yet, and enough opportunity is there for the government to take preventive measures and to build safeguards. The best way out at the moment would be an address of the Prime Minister to the nation on the CAA and the NRC; a firm statement of action will go a long way in allaying unfounded apprehensions and fears and the same would also take the steam out of such vilification campaigns.

Second, immediate measures are required to protect the "cultural, social and linguistic identities and heritage of the Assamese people", as guaranteed under clause 6 of the Assam Accord, 1985. The committee to finalize the "constitutional, legislative and administrative measures" under the Assam Accord needs immediate reconstitution, as six of the nine members have already resigned. The tribal areas under 6th schedule of the constitution from the states of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya need more autonomy and powers and the areas under Tripura need better reorganization in order to accommodate the scattered population of the beneficiary tribes. Even the demand of Meghalaya to extend the Inner Line Permit (ILP) for the state may be considered. Also, the long unsettled issue of Chakma and Hajong refugees in Arunanchal and Mizoram and their legal status needs to be resolved.

The battle for the NRC should and must be won by the government. There is not a single reason why a nationwide NRC should not be initiated. Of course, there are concerns that need to be heard, doubts that need to be cleared and fears that need to be dispelled. At the same time, those who have jumped the gun by harboring unfounded presumptions in their minds its necessary to address them through confidence building measures. However, those who vandalize the public property and more so, the truth, must be shown their right place under the law.

(Views expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Krishna Kumar

Krishna Kumar, an author and a novelist, works with the CSIR in the rank of Under Secretary. His latest conspiracy thriller, "The New Delhi Conspiracy", co-authored with Meenakshi Lekhi, MP, is now on the stands