CAA amidst new symbols of nationalism

CAA amidst new symbols of nationalism

Hari Jaisingh

Hari Jaisingh

Whither India” On the top of the world under the canopy of PM Modi and America’s President Trump? It will all depend on how one looks at the country’s state of affairs. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has his own way of looking at ‘nationalism’.

RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s regret is that the term ‘nationalism’ has acquired a negative connotation these days in a large part of the world because of its association with Hitler, Nazism and fascism. The RSS supremo, however, asserts that India needs to become a great nation to tackle the challenges of radicalism and climate change.Bhagwat has traced the misgivings to the conduct of superpowers globally even as he emphasized India’s distinctness.

Be that as it may. The country in the past few years has been witnessing new symbols of nationalism which are different from old theories and concepts, including the way today’s BJP-RSS leadership looks at it.

Take the case of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. He represents India’s new national ethos based on missile power. Who cares if he happens to be a Muslim from Tamil Nadu? The millions of Indians see in him a new messiah of nuclear India. In fact, Dr Abdul Kalam and a host of others represent India’s new secular nationalism which is above caste, creed,community and religion. They represent India’s New Society that is in the making. They also represent India’s new spirit of self-reliance and indigenous power. To me, the Indian spirit is the feeling of oneness that surfaces in the face of grave provocations. The Indian spirit is invisible, and yet indomitable. It is half culture and half religious in overtones. It carries within it some of the finer instincts of humanity. It is an invisible force that links the past with the present and keeps the nation going on its momentum. There are indeed several symbols of nationalism that hold the country in the silken threads of unity.

In fact, we ought to acknowledge the emergence of the enlightened elite with the flying tricolor and commitment to constitutional values.Against the backdrop of a violent backlash to India’s contentious new citizenship law passed easily by Parliament, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has a strong majority, a number of questions arise, brought to the forefront by the Prime Minister’s opponents and critics, that the Modi government's policies will relegate some 200 million Muslims – the country’s largest minority – to the status of second class citizens as it pursues a Hindu nationalist agenda.

The government’s policy “cannot be on religious grounds because our Constitution does not allow it, says Rahul Kapoor, a research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi.

The Muslim anxiety stems from assertions by Home Minister Amit Shah that the government will roll out a national citizenship identification exercise that was implemented in the northeast state of Assam to root out illegal immigrants. Such an exercise would require all Indians to provide documentary evidence going back decades proving they or their ancestors resided in the country – a big challenge for the poor who often do not have documents, such as birth or land records.

The new measure has been slammed as deeply divisive. “It undoes what was intended by the Indian Constitution in terms of its secular fabric but it does not redo it in terms of anything else”, says Neelanjan Sircar, senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

Though the government stands firm, the new law could hurt the country’s image overseas. UN Human Rights officials have called it "discriminatory”. The US State Department has urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values.”

Against the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s India visit, I am not sure how Prime Minister Modi would take this criticism. Even the fact sheet of the United States Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) has dubbed the CAA as a “significant downturn in religious freedom in India”. It says that Muslims alone would suffer from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as non-Muslims would be ensured protection by CAA. The Indian government has, however, said that NRC is not under discussion.

The USCIRF has categorically stated that the law gives “a dangerous turn” in the wrong direction. It further states that it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Constitution,which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith. No one can dispute this hard fact.

Referring to Home Minister Amit Shah’s remark in Parliament that CAA is only meant to protect those who have suffered religious persecution in the neighbouring countries, the USCIRF says that the Act does not require members of the listed non-Muslim religious groups to provide any proof of persecution and omitted Muslim minorities, such as Shiasand Ahmadis who face severe persecution in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to their faith. While it recalled PM Modi’s statement that there had been no discussion in the government on NRC, the USCIRF mentioned Amit Shah’s contradictory statements and also the BJP’s 2019 manifesto which called for NRC in other parts of the country in a phased manner.

The ‘fact sheet’ says there are serious concerns that CAA serves as a protective measure for non-Muslims in case of exclusion from nationwide NRC --- a proposed list of all Indians. “The CAA and NRC must also be understood in the context of the growing prominence of BJP’s Hindutva ideology. The ideological frame views India as a Hindu state (with its definition of Hinduism inclusive of Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs) and Islam as a foreign and invading religion”, it says.

Well, the on-going Shaheen Bagh episode speaks a lot about the ever growing gap between the Modi establishment and the people, the Muslims in particular.

What is equally shameful is the communal violence in northeast Delhi against the backdrop of hate speeches made by the BJP leaders. The Delhi High Court on February 26 questioned the conduct of the Delhi police and directed it to register FIRs against those who made hate speeches.

I equally blame the Union Home Ministry under Amit Shah, the police and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal for shameful acts of violence, loot and large-scale destruction of local people’s properties for a number of days. This was a case of total failure of governance in northeast Delhi. Nothing can be more shameful than large-scale riots in northeast Delhi.

Primarily led by women, the Shaheen Bagh sit-in has become a site of modern-day satyagraha. The non-violent protest has grown in numbers over the weeks, attracting thousands of supporters from across the country. It has inspired similar women-led sit-ins across the country, including in Chennai, Kanpur, Kolkata, Patna and Gaya among others.

The women of Shaheen Bagh raise slogans as Hum Ek Hain (we are one) affirming the oneness of Indians, irrespective of their social identities. What is equally significant is that the pictures of national icons such as Mahatma Gandhi and Dr BR Ambedkar adorn as a firm display of the protesters’ commitment to India’s secular, constitutional democracy. In fact, the protesters have taken the lead in voicing anger against PM Modi’s majority government. Interestingly, India’s new nationalism has become more and more economic and cultural. Viewed in this light, the challenge before the country today is to enlarge areas of success and consolidate gains. The new Indian is very much here. All that is required is to turn the country into a land of opportunity, free from the clutches of bureaucrats and corrupt practices of politicians and middlemen. Equally vital is the need for Indians to have “firm faith that India must rise above politico-religious mental barriers and be great.

The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.