CAA instead of accommodating persecuted minorities, has turned into a debate on changing the character of the Constitution. It must be contested and clarified.
BJP by unilaterally announcing NRC has created a situation whereby people are not willing to believe an IOTA of what the government is saying about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In fact, CAA is being associated with NRC which has not even been conceived on the paper.
The question is whether NRC is an ideological exercise or simple administrative drive to map the population of the country. Absence of clarity on it has led to campus violence across the country and widespread condemnation of the legislative exercise.
The most important aspect of the protest is that they are leaderless. It is for this reason, the government must have a dialogue with people even if it feels that anger is misplaced. It will help the Centre bypass political actors who are stoking violence in the name of rights.
The impression is that Centre wants to turn NRC into an electoral issue which would ultimately lead to harassment of 14 crore Muslims. This argument has become central to the protests cutting across universities in India. CAA instead of accommodating persecuted minorities, has turned into a debate on changing the character of the Constitution. It must be contested and clarified.
Another notable point is that it is not the first time that campus violence has erupted on ideological issues during Modi’s tenure. It has happened thrice before. The only difference between the previous protests and the present outcry is that the latter has galvanised the entire Muslim community.
Rohith Vemula suicide case, JNU Kashmir protest and FTII were used by the Opposition to mobilise opinion against Narendra Modi but in all 3 cases, a strong counter polarisation took place.
TheBJP was able to escape with the issue of nationalism in the case of JNU. In FTII case, it was able to garner support from Bollywood and divide it vertically on ideological lines whereas in the case of Vemula, Narendra Modi’s strong Dalit pitch resulted in the split of Dalit votes in Uttar Pradesh leading to BJP’s sweep in the assembly elections. Many senior politicians ran towards campus to own the campaign. This is missing in the 4th campaign.
None of the mainstream politicians went to Jamia fearing that photographs with the Muslims community would further polarise the debate. Even Priyanka Gandhi went to India Gate and sat on a dharna on the issue of CAA. Rahul Gandhi too extended support only via Twitter and the rest of politicians have chosen to meet the President of India. So, despite the support, mainstream political parties, except Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, have kept a distance from campus protests.
But, BJP must understand that countering Muslim exceptionalism in policies is one thing, and to marginalise them as ‘political’ citizens is another. It is not possible for any nation to have a disgruntled population of 14 crore.
Though, BJP is right in saying that all the decisions were passed by Parliament and kept in public domain from 2016 onwards. The issue even figured in the party’s manifesto, and hence, BJP cannot be blamed for pushing an agenda without letting the world know. But even then, the party needs to nuance the message.
This brings us to the last aspect of the issue which is illegal immigration in the country. Centre will need to readdress it's strategy wherein the policy of identifying illegal immigrants does not turn into a witch hunt. During the infamous Emergency, the family control drive by Congress led to a severe political backlash for Indira Gandhi. Centre needs to be mindful of the issue.
The call for nationwide NRC has even impacted the court-authored drive of NRC in Assam which was born out of Assam Accord authored by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The North East continues to suffer illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The illegal Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims immigration is a real problem for India. It impacts demography and creates electoral anomalies. Illegal immigrants have changed the shape of constituencies in North East, West Bengal and even deep inside Jharkhand.
But the argument of a national NRC has rattled the minorities. BJP will need to soothe the frayed nerves.
(Views expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)