CAA-NRC: Citizenship or Nativism?

CAA-NRC: Citizenship or Nativism?


Rahul Jayaram

As India protests into the fourth week, and as Uttar Pradesh burns, it’s evident we are witnessing the unambiguous politicisation of a new generation. Thousands have hit the streets as a result of a failed parliamentary opposition. Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath have become their target points and have led India into the heart of darkness -- which, it’s important to add, has been the outcome of the Indian electorate’s full mandate the BJP got twice consecutively. Uttar Pradesh -- nary a beacon of progress or resplendence -- is now wrapped in a spectre of murk: Nativism has become nationalised under the garb of citizenship.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) have combined with a host of simmering factors to spark this remonstration. But many vague and large things hang in the toxic political air. All this while, the National Population Register exercise begins to unroll. These actions in the white heat of politics and protest take us away from the essential features of the provenance of the citizenship imbroglio.

How has something yoked to the circumstances of India’s East and Northeast gone on to wreck individual and community lives elsewhere? A non-protesting student’s eye lost, homes invaded, families looted, innocents killed – almost all Muslims. What sort of a State does this? A law enforcer or marauder?

But the larger mess of the NRC and CAA once again re-establish the North’s over-apportioned power in India’s politics. There has been nuanced reportage on the NRC’s depredations in Assam, where women and minorities have been the worst affected. How was this made to leap all over India? How could that happen without scrutiny in Parliament?

So, not for the first time, both supporters and critics of the NRC in Assam have felt they have been exploited by North Indian politicians. They have also felt betrayed by their state leaders who get votes in the name of ‘Assamese identity’. In their eyes, once more, the issue has moved away from Assam where NRC implementation has proven to be fraught. Thus, the regional and religious fault-lines of indigenous identity politics in Assam have been parlayed into an argument about ‘othering’ Muslims and making them constitutionally “illegal immigrants.”

It’s a vexed matter in Assam -- where the Hindu-Muslim aspect is one of the points to confront and scrutinise, but not the only one. So, how has the discourse shaped up in large parts of the rest of India? Exactly how it should not be: As a ‘Hindu-Muslim’ matter. It begins as a multi-layered matter in Assam and becomes hazardously simplistic and simplified by the time it travels to the ‘mainland’.

The police forces in Delhi, UP and Mangaluru have displayed their roles as ideological handmaidens to the current government. As B R Ambedkar once wrote, “[The] Hindus have the police and the Magistracy on their side. In a quarrel between those in the minority and Hindus, the police and the Magistracy will always side with the Hindus. The police and the Magistracy naturally love their class more than their duty.” There have been reports of police looting homes as well as resorting to racist and religious abuses in Delhi and UP. A Right to Information query in 2014 established that Muslims form a miniscule part of the police force in UP.

But the protesters must know their ideological opponents are not vanishing away. The BJP will lose an election here or there, but the deep hue of Hindutva it has embedded in the fabric of India is hard to miss and is the real foe. While large constituencies of Constitution-believing citizens have pulled together, it has happened in an exceptional situation with a failing economy and a failed Opposition playing a big factor. Places like Seelampur in Delhi that are major industrial boroughs of the National Capital Territory have had unemployed and under-employed workers joining the protests to make their matters heard while opposing the CAA/NRC. These are ‘lower-caste’ Hindus and Muslims from UP and Bihar. One wonders, if this economy wasn’t in such a bad state, would the CAA/NRC have triggered such outrage? It’s a question that protesters have to ask themselves, for a portion of them includes people who voted the current party into power, and not just once.

Some protesters have admitted on their posters of making the mistake of voting Modi in again. While the backers and critics have arrived at a sharp dividing point, one cannot look away from wrestling with the strong, ideological and philosophical roots of majoritarianism in current-day India -- something that is now a world-fact with nearly each nation-state having its own religious or ethnic majoritarianism. The protests will need to achieve some sort of a concrete end while working to make clear that religious and identity extremism cannot be passed into law, creating an “us” and “them” among the communities of India.

In the long term, they need to grapple with and emerge with a plan to combat Hindutva. In Delhi and to some extent UP, lawyers across the ideological spectrum proactively brought the law and its practice to protesters and innocents who were detained or jailed. Can we imagine and commence ways of popularising theConstitution to combat the nationalising of nativism?

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