Tuesday, 11 August, 2020

Decoding India’s NRC And CAA

Laxman Panta

In recent days the CAA and NRC have triggered widespread protests in several provinces across India. CAA and NRC related violence which began from 4th December in north-east Indian province of Assam and Tripura has claimed 28 lives as of 27 December 2019. The government has arrested and detained thousands of protesters mainly students, teachers and political activists from opposition camp all across the country . The CAA is an acronym for Citizenship Amendment Act and NRC stands for National Register of Citizens. The CAA concerns with providing citizenship to those Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Parsi refugees who were allegedly persecuted on the basis of religion either in Pakistan, Bangladesh or in Afghanistan. Whereas the NRC is aimed at preventing the reported infiltration of illegal Bengali Muslim migrants from Bangladesh to north-east Indian State of Assam which shares 263 kilometers border with Bangladesh. Critics say that NRC as well as CAA is a double-edged sword of RSS – Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh- which is being used against the Muslim population of India. They allege that infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh is just a pretext to drive out and deport bona-fide Muslim citizens from Assam. On the other hand, foreigners living in Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries would be welcomed as citizens of India if they happen to be Hindus.
That the NRC and CAA both serve as the most important part of RSS agenda of creating a Hindu nation is evident from the speech of Vijay Rupani, the Chief Minister of Gujrat who not only ranks among the prominent BJP leaders but is also a close associate of prime minister Narendra Modi. The other day addressing a rally in the capital city of Gujrat province in support of CAA Rupani had said that while Muslims can choose any one of the 150 Muslim countries in the world (for residence), India is the only country for Hindus. BJP President Amit Shah has maintained that the law concerning NRC would be extended to whole of India.
When the final list of NRC was published on 30 July this year, an estimated one lakh Gorkha/Nepali names were missing from the register. This has raised concerns among Gorkha community of Assam. However, Amit Shah, the home minister of India who doubles up as BJP chief while speaking in Indian parliament has assured Indian Nepalis that as per article 7 of the Treaty of 1950 concluded between India and Nepal, Nepalis are entitled to obtain Indian citizenship. The hidden message in Shah’s said statement is apparent if one keeps in mind the fact that almost entire section of Gorkha population in India is non-Muslim, overwhelming majority of them being Hindu.
Through the twin legal tools of NRC and CAA the rightwing BJP government intends to send clear signal to both Muslims living in India and Hindus living in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan that India is a homeland of Hindus. The BJP wants to drive home the point that the party is fully committed to the cause of Hindus and shall never compromise against their interest.
Even as massive flames of protests against CAA and NRC raging in different parts of India refuse to die down, the Indian government has opened yet another Pandora’s box in the form of NPR, an acronym for National Population Register. The cabinet has allocated an outlay of Rs. 3941.35 crore for updating the NPR and Rs. 8754.23 crore for the census to be conducted in 2021. The process of collection of information for NPR will start from April 2020 and will be completed by September. The NPR is a register of ‘usual’ residents of the country being prepared at the local (village/sub-town), sub-district, district, state and national level. It is mandatory for every ‘usual’ resident of India to register in the NPR. Under the NPR a usual resident is defined as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months or more.
India is a secular country constitutionally. However as per 2011 census, the population of Hindus in India stands at 96.6 crore which accounts for 79.8 per cent of the total population of India. It is for the first time in the seventy-year-old history of secular India, where all religions were accorded equal status in constitution, that Hindu religion alone has become the criterion for granting citizenship. Though a small number of Hindu refugees who came to india as illegal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be benefitted under the CAA but this will serve as a propaganda tool for Bharatiya Janata Party to consolidate and expand party’s Hindu vote bank. The CAA may be deemed as a big achievement by RSS and its political wing Bharatiya Janata Party which has two-thirds majority in Indian parliament towards the attainment of their declared goal of Hindu nation.
The polarisation of Indian society along religious and communal lines may help BJP consolidate and expand Hindu vote base and the party could succeed in electoral game. However playing with the secular fabric of the country and marginalisation of Muslims by leveraging parliamentary majority may prove disastrous for as big and heterogeneous a country as India which is also a home for her 200 million Muslim inhabitants besides Hindus and people of other religious faiths.

(Panta is a central committee member of Nepal Communist Party)

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