Congress leader P Chidambaram pointed out that the current government can call anyone an anti-national. “If you are secular, you are condemned as anti-national, your patriotism is questioned, you are accused of speaking the language of Pakistan. Many of these people will have their citizenship questioned in future. The debate on secularism has shifted to a debate on citizenship,” explained Chidambaram.
The former home minister said that the very foundation of India is under attack and the future of the republic is at stake. Speaking at the book release of Vision for a Nation: Paths and Perspectives, edited by Ashish Nandy and Aakash Singh Rathore, Chidambaram drew parallels between the ongoing nationwide protests against the citizenship law and the civil disobedience movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi.
He underscored that the citizens were demonstrating moral courage in the face of injustice, just like Mahatma Gandhi had advocated. “Gandhi came up with the non-cooperation movement as a statement of moral courage in the face of injustice. People coming out to protest are practising Gandhi’s civil disobedience,” said Chidambaram.
Chidambaram highlighted the difference between Gandhi and Adolf Hitler. “People who we thought will not come out of their homes to brave the cold, water cannons and lathis are now out on the streets practising Gandhi’s civil disobedience. On the contrary, Hitler’s view demanded complete obedience to the supreme leader. We have examples of people demanding complete obedience to the supreme leader in Delhi itself,” asserted Chidambaram.
“Rather than based on language, religion, race, territory, culture, the founding fathers of India tried to build a concept of citizenship based on Constitution,” said the former Union minister. Speaking of various kinds of citizenships, Chidambaram said when the state bans internet, “it diminishes our digital citizenship”. He was referring to the six-month long internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir and the intermittent internet shutdowns across the country in the face of protests.
Additionally, there are only a certain number of languages in the Eighth Schedule, so Chidambaram underscored that “when a government is not interested in protecting other languages, our linguistic citizenship is compromised”.
“Today, there is a reassertion that only when you speak a certain language or belong to a race or you belong to a religion, only then are you an Indian citizen. If this definition is applied, many of us would cease to become Indian citizens. We would become diminished citizens and a large number would become non-citizens,” explained Chidamabaram. He underlined that as long as it was only a theoretical idea propagated by RSS ideologues VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar, it could be debated, but if it is becoming a political project, then all of us need to worry about the concept of Constitutional citizenship devised by BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Agreeing with Chidambaram, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said, “When I was growing up, India’s unity in diversity was one of the self-defining clichés. Today, the government wants uniformity in the name of unity.”
“If ordinary citizens are seduced, cajoled and cudgelled into supporting the views of the government, it becomes even more important to rejuvenate the discussion on the ideals that originally constituted India,” said Tharoor.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Vice-President Hamid Ansari were also present at the book release in the Capital.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said, “During the freedom struggle, three visions emerged. One recognised that a country of such diversity and polarity cannot remain united without secularism.
Secondly, political independence that we gained must be translated into economic independence and lastly, several people sought to define India on the basis of religion.”
“Hence, we are at a defining moment where we must choose what sort of vision we want for India,” pointed out Yechury and added that the RSS vision was antagonistic to the idea of India.
“This is the defining moment for the future of the Indian republic. The redeeming factor is that youngsters have come out using symbols of nationalism — from the Tricolour to the Preamble of the Constitution — to oppose the citizenship law,” said Yechury.
Chidambaram said it was quite problematic that “we have to rethink India after 70 years of Independence instead of re-imagining and rebuilding India” because somebody was attacking the roots of Indian democracy and culture.
The book is one of the fourteen volumes, which would be published by Penguin Random House in partnership with Samruddha Bharat Foundation, under the series “Rethinking India” and 150 academics, policy-makers activists and intellectuals would contribute to this series.