After it was passed in the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian Parliament) on 10 December 2019 midnight, using the brute majority of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindutva fascist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, or the CAB 2019, was passed in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament) on 11 December 2019. Despite having a thin majority in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP managed to have the CAB 2019 pass with 125 votes in favour vis-a-vis 105 against it.
The Rajya Sabha has 233 elected seats, of which three members of the Shiv Sena, a former NDA member and an ardent Hindutva fascist outfit that remained a partner-in-crime of the BJP for more than three decades but recently broke alliance to partner with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress party in Maharashtra, didn’t vote and walked out providing a leeway to the BJP. The passage of the CAB 2019 through the Rajya Sabha will now make it law soon after President Ram Nath Kovind — a former BJP leader — signs it.
The CAB 2019, which proposes citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian and Parsi refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who fled their homeland due to religious persecution and reached India by December 2014, violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, as it explicitly excludes the Muslim community. There are apprehensions that the contentious CAB 2019 will be used to disenfranchise Indian Muslims and turn them into second-class citizens once the National Register of Citizen (NRC) exercise is conducted to exclude people who won’t be able to prove their citizenship using legacy documents.
A nationwide agitation, especially in the northeastern states, is going on against the CAB 2019 for a plethora of reasons, yet the Modi regime overlooked them to table it in both of the houses. With the situation turning volatile in Assam and Tripura, the military has been deployed to suppress people’s agitation and other measures, like the imposition of an indefinite curfew, snapping of internet and mobile connectivity, etc, are adopted. The people of northeastern India are tasting the same treatment the brutal Indian state has been meting out to the Kashmiri people since decades.
It’s not clear how the situation can remain under the control of the BJP and its ideological mentor-cum-parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who are trying to use the occasion to titillate the non-Muslim refugee population in Assam, Jammu, Meghalaya, Punjab, Tripura and West Bengal, mostly lower-caste Hindus, ostracised Dalits, Sikhs, etc, with gestures of being supportive to their cause and polarising them against the forces that are opposing the CAB by projecting them as anti-Hindu.
The reduction of the CAB 2019 debate to a Hindu-Muslim dichotomy and portraying its sensible and secular opponents as anti-Hindu actually helped the BJP and the RSS in their political aggrandizement. The result of such a smear campaign helped the BJP win massive support from the non-Muslim refugees, especially Bengali Hindus and Namasudras (ostracised Bengali Dalits), in Assam and West Bengal. Rather than exposing the Hindutva fascist BJP-RSS’s heinous agenda behind the CAB 2019, the opposition parties, especially the Congress party, the NCP, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK), the parliamentary left led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M), etc, are actually helping the saffron camp by exactly doing what the Modi regime wants them to do. They are isolating themselves from the major section of non-Muslim refugees who have been living in abject poverty and utmost uncertainty after fleeing their homeland.
Actually, the CAB 2019, a replica of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, complements the forthcoming pan-India NRC exercise, which the Modi regime wants to implement to disenfranchise millions, particularly the poor from the marginalised Muslim and ostracised Dalit and tribal communities, to turn them into stateless, cheap labour pool for big corporate houses. To hoodwink the poor non-Muslim people, especially the Dalits, the tribals and other oppressed communities during the inhuman NRC execution, which the BJP plans to complete by March 2024, before the 18th Lok Sabha election, the CAB 2019 will be dangled as bait to lure them and keep them loyal to the Hindutva fascist cause.
In this article, which studied the CAB 2016, the CAB 2019 and the review of the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s (JPC) findings, including the statements from the Intelligence Bureau (IB — India’s internal intelligence agency) and the Research & Analytics Wing (R&AW — external intelligence agency), it’s shown that only 31,313 non-Muslim refugees will benefit from the enactment of the law. For the rest, they have to prove that they are actually refugees, ie, citizens from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with supportive documents to prove their citizenship in those countries and that they have fled from there due to religious persecution. Each such claim should be verified by the R&AW operatives in those countries and in case of millions of such refugees — the BJP claiming millions of such Hindus exist — it will take few hundred years to complete the verification!
Therefore, BJP’s outgoing president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s claim that this bill will help millions of Hindus and other non-Muslim refugees is a sheer lie. It will actually help the BJP to create a cheap labour pool for corporates through the NRC, against which the non-Muslim refugees are less likely to participate in any resistance now, as they are befooled with the promise of citizenship for them. It will also enable BJP officials to extort money from hapless people and help big corporate houses with labour supply. What the CAB 2019 is going to do is completely immunise the NRC and the National Population Registry (NPR) exercise.
Still, it’s imperative to understand the conspiracy in its totality. The BJP’s move to introduce the CAB 2019 is not as much lethal like the NPR and the NRC. While the parties like the Congress party, TMC, CPI(M), NCP, DMK, etc, are opposing the CAB 2019 and are calling it anti-Constitution, they remain conspicuously silent on the NPR, which will start from April 2020. Even though TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a vocal opponent of the CAB 2019 and the NRC, is claiming that no such exercise will be implemented in her state, her government preparing for the NPR in the state, which is peddled as a census. The NPR isn’t a census and is closely connected with the NRC.
Contrary to popular belief, the NRC mooted by Shah and Modi for pan-India isn’t merely a replica of the Assam model, which was scrapped by the BJP after 1.2m out of 1.9m total people excluded by the Rs 15 billion-worth exercise are found Hindus, especially Bengali and Hindi-speaking Hindus, who have been voting for the BJP since ages. The untold fact about the forthcoming NRC is that it’s not going to take place on the lines of Assam NRC, as the latter was held under the Assam Accord, 1985, which was signed between the Congress party-led Union government of Rajiv Gandhi and the Assamese chauvinist organisation All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). The AASU, supported by the RSS, rode on several anti-Bengali genocides, including the Nellie massacre, to sign the pact with Gandhi. However, the NRC that Modi and Shah want to start now, is rooted in the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003, or the CAA 2003 which added Section 14 (A) to the Citizenship Act.
The CAA 2003, passed by the NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and supported by parties like the TMC, which was then an ally of the BJP, and not opposed strongly by the Congress, CPI(M), DMK, etc, added the mandatory clause of conducting an NRC all over India under a regulatory authority to weed out people who aren’t legitimate citizens. To determine who is a legitimate citizen of India, we need to see what’s the Indian Citizenship Act says.
As per the CAA 2003, which was enacted in 2004, one can be considered an Indian citizen if neither of their parents is an illegal immigrant. An illegal immigrant, according to the Citizenship Act, is someone who either entered India illegally or overstayed after entering legally. The NRC is to list those who can prove that they were born in India between 26 January 1950 and 1 July 1987, or one of their parents is Indian if born between 1st July 1987 and the enactment of the CAA 2003, and if born after the enactment of the CAA 2003, then either both of their parents are Indian citizens or one among them an Indian citizen and, another not an illegal immigrant.
The CAA 2003 makes NRC a mandatory provision and mandated the creation of a national identity card project, which the Congress party initiated under the Aadhar scheme. Even if the Congress party was in power, it had to conduct the NRC. No party, not even the TMC or any other vocal opponents of the BJP, can deny the NRC exercise as it’s the mandate of a law passed by the Parliament. Any talk of not allowing the NRC is nothing but sheer political debauchery to deceive the people momentarily.
If the TMC and the CPI(M) or the Congress, for that matter, were really serious about the NRC menace then they wouldn’t have remained mum on it for more than 16 years. They would have resisted the Vajpayee-led BJP’s attempt to enact such a draconian law back in 2003, rather than yelling at the top of their lungs now. Now that the pan-India NRC will be implemented, they are showing cosmetic opposition, while remaining mum on the NPR. If the NRC is to be stopped, resisted and defeated, then it’s imperative to resist the NPR, however, none of the political parties is talking about this imminent threat.
Even the protests that are unfolding in northeastern states, turning violent each moment, aren’t aimed at discarding the NRC, the NPR and the subsequent exclusion of a large number of Hindus, Muslims and other communities. Rather, most of these movements are driven by xenophobia, as the idea of including the refugees as citizens is used to stoke chauvinistic emotions in these areas. This will eventually give rise to one or another form of exclusionary fascism, dividing the oppressed people and the poor into ethnic lines. Such divisions won’t harm the prospects of the BJP-RSS and their Hindutva agenda. Without a proper class outlook, anti-fascist fervour, there can be no real resistance against the heinous agenda of the Hindutva camp.
There is an ardent need to provide citizenship to the refugees. It’s a fact that the majority of refugees who came to India aren’t Muslims. Even the so-called xenophobic campaign over Bangladeshi Muslims coming in India, whom Shah called “termites”, is all but a hoax. If there is immigration from Bangladesh, then it’s either seasonal or very minuscule. Rather, the majority of those who have been arriving from Bangladesh are non-Muslims. It’s imperative to understand that the people, especially the Bengali and the Punjabi people, who vehemently fought the British colonial rule, suffered the worst due to the partition, for which Shah blamed the Congress party and Jawaharlal Nehru while remaining silent on the notorious role played by the Hindutva fascist camp represented by the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.
No plebiscite was held to ask the Bengalis and Punjabis whether they want a partition of their land; rather, the British imperialists, in connivance with the Congress party, the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha, drew arbitrary border across Bengal and Punjab, leaving millions of people stateless overnight and turned them into refugees. They had to flee from East or West Pakistan or from modern India due to communal carnages that were instigated by the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League. The partition caused a large-scale, unprecedented population transfer and the cycle of violence, bigotry and communalism that started, didn’t end then but even continues till this day. Thus, the refugee issue or the religious persecution of minority communities in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan aren’t isolated incidents but a chain reaction of the hatred that was sown 72 years ago.
In view of the people’s agony, the forced eviction of millions, which is continuing despite the iron fencing and a brutal division of people’s land and identity, it’s important that the persecuted minorities from the neighbouring countries, especially Bangladesh and Pakistan, carved out of the British Indian Punjab and Bengal, are granted citizenship in India. It’s also important that the persecuted Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Madhesis of Nepal, the Rohingyas of Myanmar and atheists, Shiʻite and Ahmadiyya Muslims of Pakistan are also given citizenship. Rather than falling in the trap laid by the Hindutva fascist RSS, which is polarising the communities around the CAB 2019, the democratic, secular and anti-fascist forces must raise the demand for inclusion of all persecuted communities of the region in the CAB 2019 and also demand the scrapping of the anti-people CAA 2003 and the anti-people Assam Accord, 1985, which contain the despicable NRC clauses and make the monstrous exercise a mandatory one.
It’s imperative that the democratic and secular forces put pressure on the government to safeguard the interests of the Indian minority communities as well as the refugees, irrespective of their religion, who came to India. Thus, it’s the NPR, the NRC and the CAB, which must be rejected and resisted together, and not used selectively. It’s imperative that a mass movement is started to ensure that the project to disenfranchise poor Muslims, Dalits and other oppressed people, who can’t bring forth papers to prove their legacy, aren’t persecuted and used to farther the obnoxious agenda of the Hindutva fascist camp. Thus, along with the CAB 2019, the people must be organised and led against the notorious NRC and the NPR, to stop the government from turning people homeless and stateless.
For now, as the CAB 2019 is waiting to be enacted as a piece of law, the only way that’s open before the people, especially the democratic and progressive forces, is to boycott the NPR all over India from April 2020 and refuse to show documents to the government. Only a united people’s struggle, a civil disobedience to thwart the NPR and the subsequent NRC attempts can prevent the sinister agenda of the Hindutva fascist Modi regime. A strong civil disobedience movement holds the power to force the government to retreat, but the question is which all forces can unite to stall the juggernaut? Who all can be united against this larger conspiracy of creating millions of stateless slaves for big corporate houses? Who all can unite to force the Hindutva camp to the annals of history? If not united today, the progressive and democratic forces won’t be able to defeat the BJP or the RSS for a long time to come. CAB 2019 widened the fissures between the rulers and the ruled, and it’s time this contradiction is carefully used for the sake of democracy’s triumph against fascism.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker