Noted historian Irfan Habib on Wednesday said it would be wrong to look upon the recent outburst of public sentiments against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act as merely a "Muslim outrage" as it would ultimately impact all and the "idea of India as a modern state".
Commenting on the police action against the protesters in different parts of the country, he said "Even in colonial period we had not witnessed such suppression of dissent."
In an interview to PTI, he said people are getting increasingly concerned over such attempts to crush dissent because the right to protest is the essence of a democratic society.
Habib stressed that "all over the country a large number of Hindus and other communities are participating in this protest".
He said it would, of course, suit the ruling dispensation "if this protest is viewed merely through the prism of a Hindu - Muslim issue".
The eminent historian said, "this struggle is about India and about the future of democracy".
According to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who had come to India till Dec 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan because of religious persecution will not be treated as illegal immigrants and be given Indian citizenship.
Habib said some recent policies introduced by the Modi government are merely the manifestation of a "long term project of the Hindutva movement" which rests largely on policy of "suppressing dissent and protest".
The octogenarian professor said what is happening in India today is unfortunately just a replica of what had been taking place in neighbouring Pakistan after the partition.
He said very much like the ruling classes in Pakistan the present Indian rulers know that "religion excites public sentiments" and their political power rests on this narrative.
Explaining the roots of the seemingly sudden outbreak of public outrage on the CAA, Habib pointed out that resentment amongst Muslims have been brewing for quite some time. However this angst has only surfaced during the past few days because it is only now that they perceive that the Hindu Rashtra business is becoming serious as seen by the enactment of some recent "legislative and administrative steps".
"These are all components of a major Hindu Rashtra project envisioned in 1937," he alleged.
He said even in colonial times, the British police had not displayed such an inhuman attitude towards protesters as has been witnessed during the past few days in several parts of country.
Protests had broken out here on On Deceber 15 night against the amended citizenship law, with hundreds of Aligarh Muslim University students clashing with the police at a campus gate, leading to the university adminstration announcing closure of the institution till January 5. Around 70 people, including students, 20 police personnel and AMU security guards were injured in the clashes.
Recalling an incident, which took place at the AMU campus in 1938, he said, "There had been violent protests at AMU which led to clashes with the police. The superintendent of police was an Englishman and during the protest he was badly beaten by the students, despite this major provocation, he did not allow the police to enter the campus because he realized that the need of the hour was restraint”.
Habib said in 1951 also the AMU witnessed student protests and was closed down. However, no "knee-jerk action" was taken by the police against the protesters and ultimately the protests died down.
Habib said the modern day India came to being and flourished because of the open hearted liberal policies of men like Jawaharlal Nehru who had a vision of a modern state resting on the principles of humanism and a pluralistic society. Today, he lamented, that this idea of India which had made this country great is very much at stake.