A year ago, on December 15th 2020, the Delhi Police launched a bestial assault on students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI), when they tried to march towards the Parliament demanding the repealing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA 2019). The same evening, the Uttar Pradesh Police, driven by sheer hubris, attacked Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) students organising anti-CAA 2019 protests.
In both cases, the feral policemen breached the sanctity of the university space, entered the campuses, and unleashed macabre atrocities on students. Not only the anti-CAA 2019 protests reached a new peak with these atrocities, the historic Shaheen Bagh movement, a first-of-its-kind Muslim women’s resistance struggle in India, started with full vigour on the same evening. Now, after a year, after a lot of upheavals, it’s imperative to retrospect the journey of the historic movement.
None can disagree that the anti-CAA 2019 protests became hotspots for the oppressed Muslim community expressing pent-up discontent. The Muslims remained largely quiet and cocooned when the rumbustious lynch mobs, promoted by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), brutally killed Muslims, one after another, throughout India; they even didn’t protest against the moves of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime that criminalised Muslim men, vilified the community through incessant vitriolic propaganda and when the Supreme Court delivered a contentious judgement on the 15th-century Babri Masjid demolition.
But they were triggered when they heard that their citizenship will be questioned, and the regime will disenfranchise them through the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC or NRC) exercise. The NRC trauma of Assam was revisited. The Muslims considered the CAA 2019 as the final assault by the Modi regime on their immediate national identity. They fought to be identified as Indians.
The anti-CAA 2019 protests, which blistered throughout India, despite being epitomes of valour of women and common people, despite exhibiting the love of the Muslim people for their homeland and their identity, were built on a wrong foundation, which, eventually, lead to uncomfortable questions: Whose interest did these movements serve? Who actually benefitted from these movements? And why the movements ebbed, the tempo withered and there is no sight of replenishing them?
In this article, we have explained why the CAA 2019 doesn’t pose any threat to Muslims. We have also shown, in this article, how the CAA 2019 is a weapon in the hands of the BJP and the RSS to fool the Hindu refugees, especially the poor Dalits. We have also discussed how the anti-NRC movement in West Bengal split over the CAA 2019 and why the citizenship movement is demanding a “humane CAA” rather than “no-CAA”, which was hitherto the principal demand.
Behind each movement, there is a lot of hard work, which is used to mobilise the masses and to propagate the agenda among the people. Though the women of Shaheen Bagh, students of JMI and AMU, etc, are credited for initiating the anti-CAA 2019 protests, though Sharjeel Imam, the victim of the Hindutva fascist camp’s hate-mongering and the mainstream press’s demonisation, is credited for mobilising the women of Shaheen Bagh—though the movement later rebuked his role—to lead the historic movement, it wasn’t any of them who were ideologically guiding the movement or fixing its narrative. Despite the participation of several renowned scholars, intellectuals, parliamentary politicians and lawyers, the anti-CAA 2019 protests were directed against only the CAA 2019.
Though these movements rocked Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, etc, and garnered the support of several celebrities, they wrongly connected the CAA 2019 with the NRC exercise and its prelude National Population Register (NPR) exercise. There was a conscious effort to project the CAA 2019 as an anti-Muslim law and it was claimed that Hindus and other communities mentioned in the law will be able to reclaim citizenship if they are disenfranchised through the NRC, but the Muslims won’t.
The frightened community, marginalised, dehumanised and demonised daily, had no scope to analyse the law and its fine lines, so it began the movement against the BJP’s obnoxious agenda, however, in doing so, it became a victim of the RSS’s long-term strategic plan.
The CAA 2019, which was earlier called the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB 2016), was projected firstly as an anti-Assamese law by the activists of Assam who started agitating against it considering it a mechanism that the BJP will deploy to provide citizenship to Bengali Hindu refugees. The Assamese and other people of northeastern parts started opposing the Bill since 2016 and their movement reached a peak in 2018-19.
But the BJP had no such plan. The CAA 2019 was a deceptive tool it had to use to hoodwink non-Muslim refugees from former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)—especially the members of the Matua sect whom the Hindutva camp is wooing under its Brahminical fold, along with other Namasudra or Bengali Dalit victims of partition—and tantalise them with the Islamophobic propaganda of the RSS.
Following the diktat of the World Bank since the mid-1980s, the Indian ruling classes used the cover of Assamese chauvinism to blame migration from Bangladesh as a reason for India’s socio-economic problems. In the wake of the US-funded Islamophobic wave of the early 1990s, at a time when New Delhi unleashed macabre atrocities on Kashmiri people demanding their right to self-determination, the Bangladeshi “infiltration” bogey was raised and a narrative of national security threat was created by the RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp. Soon after the 9/11 terror attack on the US, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) used the Brahminical anti-immigration sentiments to bring forth the most dangerous amendment to India’s citizenship law, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (CAA 2003).
The CAA 2003 introduced the concept of “illegal migrant” for any Indian who can’t show documents to prove Indian citizenship or residence in India before July 19th 1948 [Article 6(B) of the Indian Constitution]. To disenfranchise such “illegal migrant” population, the CAA 2003 mandated the creation of an NRC through an NPR exercise.
Late former president and leader of the Congress party, Pranab Mukherjee, headed the Parliamentary committee that endorsed the law. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay, who has been opposing the CAA 2019 and NRC-NPR, was a part of the NDA when Vajpayee’s BJP passed the bill in the Parliament. The Congress party and the parliamentary left parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], which spread deceptive information about the CAA 2019, actually enacted the CAA 2003 in December 2004.
Even if, hypothetically, the anti-CAA 2019 protests win victory in forcing the government to repeal the contentious law, the NRC will still take place. The Muslims will still be disenfranchised, as the exercise is rooted in the CAA 2003, which no one demanded to be repealed.
The CAA 2019 doesn’t guarantee citizenship to anyone but gives relief to only 31,313 people, with no scope for future applications. It’s only meant for victims of partition and migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan living in Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan, as they have mostly applied for long-term visas (LTVs) at the Foreigners Regional Registration Offices (FRROs).
But yet, the BJP wanted to promote the CAA 2019 as a pro-Hindu, pro-Matua and other non-Muslim refugee law. It intends to garner the support of these communities to strengthen its presence in Assam and West Bengal.
For years, the Bengali-speaking refugees from Bangladesh have been fighting for citizenship rights. Their movements intensified since 2004 under different organisations. As most of these refugees, who arrived in India after 1950, mostly around the Bangladesh War of 1971, belong to Namasudra communities and Matua sect, their struggle for citizenship rights was grossly ignored by the mainstream press and the parliamentary political parties.
Neither news of these struggles found any mention in big media outlets nor the parliamentary parties took a positive step towards resolving the impasse. Unlike the anti-CAA 2019 protests, there wasn’t any hullaballoo over the CAA 2003 and the protests against it.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh requested Vajpayee and his deputy, LK Advani, to provide relief to the victims of partition when the CAA 2003 was passed, but his government, a year later, enacted CAA 2003 in to-to. While the TMC remained quiet during the passage of the CAA 2003, the CPI (M), its bete noire, remained mum when Singh’s government enacted it, despite controlling the government through external support. At one point in time, while Bandopadhyay blamed the CPI(M) of promoting “illegal migration”, Prakash Karat, the former CPI(M) chief, wrote to Singh to provide relief to the refugees in West Bengal, despite its government, till 2011, did nothing for the refugees.
Similarly, Bandopadhyay only played with the Matua emotions by wooing the matriarch of the sect’s founding family. The TMC managed to sweep the 2011 and the 2016 elections in several constituencies riding on the Matua votes. The BJP too started preying upon the Matua votes after 2014, as Modi promised the Hindu refugees Indian citizenship.
The RSS swiftly activated its refugee cells and started radicalisation of the Matua community in the bordering districts of Assam and West Bengal. It claimed that through legal provisions it will legalise the stay of the Matua refugees in India and Modi’s promises were taken at face value by these hapless people as there was no other party that raised their demand for citizenship.
When the CAA 2019 was designed, ie, at the stage of the CAB 2016, the BJP ensured that it’s seen as a beacon of hope by the Hindu and the non-Muslim refugees living in Assam and other northeastern states, as well as in West Bengal. It wanted to consolidate the support of these communities in the elections up to 2021 and turn a majority of their youths to pawns against the Muslim community to keep the communal tempo high.
From the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the local comprador capitalists like Gautam Adani, Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, etc, the diktat was to create a massive pool of cheap labour in the country, which would reduce the wages on a national scale. Disenfranchisement of 5% to 10% Indians will also reduce the government’s expenses behind the few remnant welfare schemes, which will save a lot of money to be distributed to the corporates as bailout money or stimulus.
In such a situation, the CAA 2019 came as a useful tool. The CAA 2019 has no provisions to provide citizenship to anyone afresh, except those who have received their LTVs from the FRROs. For new applications there will be two major issues, firstly, they will self-declare themselves as “foreigners” and give up any claim on Indian citizenship, which will even jeopardise the citizenship of their children; secondly, the condition of “religious persecution” will force the applicants to prove it through documentary evidence. This is impossible for them who have migrated decades ago. Due to these complicities, the BJP is dilly-dallying publicising the Rules of the CAA 2019, which should have been tabled within three to six months of the law’s enactment.
Though the CAA 2019 is hollow and has no scope for anyone outside the notified 31,313 applicants, the Muslim community’s anti-CAA 2019 protests helped the BJP and the RSS to portray the law as one favouring the non-Muslim refugees and safeguarding them from the NRC. The anti-CAA 2019 protests demanded the scrapping of the law while remaining conspicuously silent on the CAA 2003.
This standpoint helped the BJP to hoodwink the Hindus in believing that the Muslims are opposing the government’s attempt to provide them with citizenship. The Muslims were shown as parochial and bigots by Modi’s toady press and the government kept claiming that the CAA 2019 doesn’t threaten any Indian’s citizenship. The hatred generated against the Muslims was utilised by the RSS in a very cunning way, and Delhi’s anti-Muslim pogrom is a stark example of it.
No movement or social event is sacrosanct and beyond critical evaluation. The anti-CAA 2019 protests did evoke a nationwide sentiment against the Modi regime but it only centred itself among the Muslim community, who are 15% of the total population and they aren’t supporters of the BJP. Even if the 15% Muslims boycott the NPR exercise, boycott the Aadhaar-linked NPR drive, still, the NRC will happen as the majority community, fooled by the BJP, will consider itself safe.
This will eventually lead to the further marginalisation of the Muslims. The Muslims didn’t migrate to India from Bangladesh or Pakistan, it’s the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc. So, those who will suffer the most under the CAA 2003-provisioned NRC are the people of the non-Muslim communities. The Muslims will suffer but the Assam NRC, which unlisted 1.9m people, shows that the majority will be non-Muslims, especially the Dalits, the tribal people, the backward class Hindus (OBCs), etc.
Rather than opposing the CAA 2019 and settling for a half solution, the Muslims must also raise the demand for repealing the CAA 2003, the CAA 1986 and demand that the government ensure unconditional citizenship of all Indians irrespective of their religion, caste, creed or language. This demand is now raised by Muslim organisations in West Bengal, where an organisation, Dalit Adivasi Minority Andolan League or DAMAL is spearheading the movement for unconditional citizenship rights for all.
Like DAMAL has knitted together the Dalits, the Matua sect and the tribal people with the Muslims, by demanding the securing of citizenship rights of all Indians unconditionally, other organisations in other parts of the country must follow the suit and unite their initiatives to forge a strong unity of the oppressed masses against the BJP by exposing the grand scheme of conducting the NRC and disenfranchising the poor of all caste, creed, religion and language.
The anti-CAA 2019 protests have become iconic, however, they have been incomplete too. Any movement should come with a goal, and the goal must be able to mobilise the majority of the target mass. If one wants to defeat the BJP politically in India, then it’s imperative to target its consolidated support base among those sections which the RSS won’t ever do justice to.
So, it’s very evident that if the BJP voters, the Matua sect, the Dalits, the OBCs, and tribal masses are weaned away from the Hindutva fold by hammering hard on the weakest link in the BJP-RSS’s chain, ie, the citizenship matrix, then it will also jeopardise the party’s fortune in states like Assam, West Bengal, etc, as well as, weaken it politically. This will be important in the long-term struggle against the RSS and Hindutva’s obnoxious agenda.
After a year of heroic struggle, it’s now important to revisit these core questions of the anti-CAA 2019 protests and build up a mass movement that will become protracted and effective in defeating the Modi regime and the corporate-funded Hindutva fascist enterprise.