Apart from being a good orator, Narendra Modi has another extraordinary skill - the ability to create confusion and disruption on a mega scale. He did it with Demonetization, he did it with GST and Article 370. Now he has done it again with CAA.
Talent is a rare commodity in public life. Harnessed intelligently, it can change a country for the better. But used with dubious intentions and without adequate forethought, it can cause untold suffering. It destroys lives, disrupts day-to-day commerce and demolishes faith in the Social Contract.
The nefarious Citizenship Act amendment in conjunction with the dreadful National Register of Citizens has paralyzed life in the Seven Sister states of the northeast. The flames of public anger have spread to West Bengal where, till last reports came in, five trains and 15 buses have been set ablaze.
Note-bandi was a prime example of quixotic exercise of power for no good reason. What impelled the Prime Minister to demonetise high value currency notes all of a sudden will probably never be fully known. But the impact was instantaneous - the entire population of the world’s second most populous nation was pauperized overnight.
What good came out of it will forever remain a mystery, but it can no longer be disputed that millions of vulnerable citizens were pushed below the poverty line, millions more are still suffering from post-traumatic Financial Stress Disorder and, in contrast, a few lucky tycoons, traders and political carpet-baggers became rich beyond Aladdin’s wildest dreams.
The unending trauma of the people of Kashmir is another stark illustration of diabolic misuse of power and talent. On paper it must have looked like a brilliant politico-military master-plan, but because the abrogation was so draconian and the action that followed was so undemocratic, it has turned out to be like a fish-bone stuck in the throat. What lends a sinister edge to the Kashmir clampdown is that the motives are myopic, based as they are on menacing theories of monocracy.
The compulsion to enact the Citizenship Amendment Act was also born of the same outlandish philosophy. Apart from the fact that the injection of religious criteria to determine citizenship is a constitutional travesty, the glaring exclusion of Muslims migrants clearly indicates the real intention.
The cruel irony is that in the case of Assam and other northeastern States, the local populace has erupted in anger not because of fear of an unwelcome influx of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, but because of the dread of hordes of Bengali-speaking Hindus being granted citizenship rights.
The Modi-Shah regime has clearly been blindsided. The rational of the scheme was to further the Hindu Rashtra fantasy. It never occurred to the Hindutva crusaders that there would be such a spontaneous backlash from the indigenous population, many of whom belong to the majority community.
Nor did it occur to them that there are other more emotive factors than religion that would enrage the Ahom-speaking citizens of Assam. By definition, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh would be Bengali-speaking - this is anathema to the Ahoms who for long have been simmering with resentment over the perceived historic wrongs committed by the influx of linguistic outsiders.
During his marathon speeches in both Houses of Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah may have been at his brazen best, winning plaudits from Parivarists, but discerning listeners could tell that many of his assertions were fanciful rather than factual.
Interestingly, whereas the Indian media largely focused on the abrasive manner in which he countered the Opposition, it was left to a foreign news network to attempt a “fact check” on some of his claims.
An audit by the BBC for instance found, not surprisingly, several statistical distortions, historical deceptions and plain white lies in much of what Shah said. The Home Minister’s claim that Pakistan's non-Muslim population had dwindled dramatically since after the mass exodus post-Partition, was factually incorrect.
According to him, the remaining minority population in Pakistan was 23 percent in 1951 and had shrunk substantially over the decades due to persecution. The truth, as far as Hindu population of Pakistan is concerned, is that it was around 2 percent in 1951 and remains much the same today. He had cunningly conflated the drop in Hindu population in erstwhile East Pakistan prior to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
A few Indian newspapers, too, have attempted to sift fact from fancy in the Home Minister’s speeches and pinpointed certain deliberate distortions. Perhaps the most incisive comment came from veteran columnist Prem Shankar Jha who nailed Amit Shah’s false claim that “Had the Congress not partitioned this country on the basis of religion, there would have been no need for this Bill (Iss desh ka vibhajan agar dharma ke aadhar par Congress na kari hoti to is Bill ka kaam nahin hota)”.
In his detailed and devastating narrative of the Hobson’s choice faced by the Congress Party in early 1947, when despite being wholly against the Two-Nation formula, it was compelled to agree to Partition in order to avoid a communal holocaust that would have “torn apart the social fabric of the country”, Jha debunks the Shah thesis that it was the Congress that was responsible for dividing India on the basis of religion.
In a telling comment, the 81-year-old doyen of Indian journalism who had covered the events at first hand, said: “Amit Shah may be able to fool others on the Congress's stand regarding Partition, but he cannot fool me”.
More insidious than such blatant historical ‘spin’ is the sheer effrontery of the Modi-Shah government’s zeal to push through deceptive new norms for granting citizenship to illegal migrants by excluding Muslims. This is the most chilling aspect of the entire sordid citizenship saga.
Many commentators have raised the red flag regarding the government’s pretext that it was trying to “right the wrong done at the time of Partition”, whereas the law that has been enacted changes the very idea of secular India by making religion a criterion for citizenship.
The truth is that CAA is not a law that concerns those it ostensibly seeks to include - the six minority groups from three countries. The Act is a hostile hatchet directed at India’s own largest minority. It is a statement of intent that signals an appalling narrowing, a cold-blooded exclusion, a spine-chilling downgrading of the status of 200 million Muslim citizens of India.
For that reason alone, the Citizenship Amendment Act is ultra virus the Preamble to the Indian Constitution which guarantees “Equality of Status and of Opportunity” to all citizens regardless of caste, creed or religious beliefs.
Sadly, in obsessively pursuing the dubious ideological goal of majority-ism, the Prime Minister has demonstrated his uncanny ability to create chaos by opening up a Pandora’s Box of trouble, turmoil and tribulation. At the root of the current conflagration is the erroneous assumption that just because his government has won a five-year term in office, it has the license to negate basic constitutional principles.
While hustling the Citizenship Amendment Bill through Parliament, no thought was given to the fact that the torturous process of compiling a National Register of Citizens in Assam had already pushed lakhs of legitimate citizens to the brink of statelessness and re-ignited religious and ethnic passions and fears.
In dealing with issues of such complexity, it is not enough for political leaders to merely possess the gift of the gab. It requires deep understanding of the psyche of the people to steer clear of chaos and confusion, death and devastation.
( Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal)