The Narendra Modi government’s various measures on citizenship are running into difficulty. Delhi and Telangana are the latest to oppose the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).
Considering that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was being seen to be moving close to the BJP by pursuing “soft” Hindutva, the step cannot but upset the BJP. Little wonder that the Union Minister of State for Home, G. Kishan Reddy, has said that Kejriwal is misleading the people.
A few days ago, the Bihar government, too, which is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), voiced its opposition to the NRC and the NPR unless the latter adhered to the 2010 format. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s decision was hailed by his main political rival in the state, Tejashvi Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), who said that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had been “pushed back 1,000 km”. There are now 12 states and Union territories which have opposed these proposed legislations.
There is little doubt, therefore, that the BJP’s pet projects are in trouble. If the party believed that the trio of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), NRC and NPR would enable it to push forward a pro-Hindu agenda, it must be having second thoughts. It cannot be gainsaid that these legal initiatives, taken together, would create a sense of uncertainty and fear not only among Muslims but the Hindus as well.
While the latter will expect the BJP to be less harsh on them because of their religion if they fail to produce the requisite documents, the Muslims will not be so sure. For all the assurances that are being given by the government that they have nothing to be afraid of, the Muslims will not be convinced if only because no one knows better than them the deep antipathy with which the BJP and its more rabid affiliates, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, regard them. They are also aware of the longstanding objective of the RSS to convert secular India into a Hindu Rashtra.
The gatherings of Muslim women in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and in other cities are an expression of this disbelief and mistrust based on experience. Of the three legal steps – the CAA, NRC and NPR – the first introduces for the first time the concept of religion to determine a person’s citizenship by singling out the non-Muslims in Islamic countries who may come to India to escape persecution. Muslims have been specifically excluded from this patently discriminatory provision.
The CAA can be regarded, therefore, as the thin end of the wedge which identifies a citizen by his faith. The BJP apparently wants this wedge to further widen the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims by identifying the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, or “termites” as they have been called by Amit Shah, who are living in India and then ferreting them out from the rest of the population for either deportation or incarceration.
However, in the process of spotting and classifying the immigrants, there is every likelihood of the other Muslims, who are legitimate citizens, coming under pressure if they do not have the relevant papers. As a result, the NRC would create a huge sense of apprehension and unease among all sections of the minorities, legal or illegal.
The realization about overplaying the anti-Muslim card following internal and international uproar has now made the government say that no definitive step has yet been taken on the NRC, but there is no assurance that this will never be done. So, the NRC will continue to hang like the Damocles sword over the minorities.
As if the CAA and the NRC were not enough to frighten the Muslims, the government is considering incorporating new questionnaires in the NPR about the background of the applicant’s parents such as their places of birth and dates as well as mother tongue. However, more uproar has compelled it to backtrack. But what this exercise in “one step forward, two steps back” underlines is the BJP’s keenness to harass the Muslims in order to keep its hardline Hindu base of support intact.
It is no secret that majoritarianism not only requires a clearly identifiable “enemy” – Jews in Nazi Germany, black and brown immigrants in today’s Europe and the US – but also an element of social tension to ensure that a paranoid feeling about the majority community being under some kind of a latent and persistent threat from the enemies within the country is kept alive. It is the easiest way for a right-wing party to secure votes.
Even if the CAA, NRC and NPR do not come into force in the near future, the RSS/BJP has assured the Hindus that their interests continue to be uppermost in the saffron brotherhood’s mind while the Muslims have been warned that they cannot take their citizenship in India for granted.