By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-01-02 21:13:49
Sadly, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, instead of either listening to the citizen protestors who are against the CAA and the NRC or explaining the government's stand on the issue in detail to them is advising them and the opposition parties to protest against the atrocities committed by Pakistan on minorities. Indian citizens are more qualified to protest against what they think is wrong in their own country. That is what they are doing through largely apolitical and peaceful protests all over the country. The government should listen to them. It should take note of all their objections and counter them with its own explanations. It should explain why it thought fit to get the Citizenship Amendment Act passed and how will it benefit persecuted minorities from neighboring countries. It should explain to the protestors why Muslims were left out of the ambit of the amendments and how persecuted Muslims from these countries can still apply for Indian citizenship through other laws. More importantly, it should explain to the nation how the status of Indian Muslims will not be affected in any way by the amended Citizenship Act.
But instead of doing all this, the Prime Minister has sadly tried to communalize the issue. In a tasteless and politically incorrect remark, he first said that it was clear who was protesting from their clothes. It was a not so veiled attack on the Muslim community who were thought to be behind the protests. Then, politicians and police officers started saying that those who were protesting should "go to Pakistan" as if they were not Indian citizens or had no right to protest in their own country. And now this 'advice' to protest against atrocities committed by Pakistan on the minorities living there. It is clear that the government does not know what to do in the face of these massive protests.
Actually, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are masters of the game when it comes to tackling politicians, although even there they are taking massive hits lately. But they are woefully out of their depth when faced with protests from ordinary citizens. To be fair to them, governments across the world either go weak in the knee or become brutal and ferocious (as it happened in UP now and China and the former USSR in the past or even the USA when it faced the anti-draft protests against the Vietnam War from 1964) when faced with protests from citizens that turn into social movements. Modi and Shah had not bargained for such massive and sustained protests against the CAA or the NRC. Now they are applying knee-jerk reactions and hoping that the movement will die a natural death in a few days.
But one thing is sure. If the NRC, or now even the mischievously designed NPR, is attempted across the nation, citizens will erupt with anger and the government will not be able to control them with even the most brutal methods. Having to prove one's citizenship after having lived in the country since birth is like trying to prove that one is not a thief. What is the fault of the ordinary citizen if a few lakh of illegal immigrants from neighboring countries have entered India? Why should he or she prove he or she is not one of them? It is the government's duty to design a way to detect these illegal immigrants in a manner that does not disturb the bona fide citizens of the country. And actually, what use is conducting such an exercise when anyone from Bangladesh can enter India by either hopping across a porous and largely unmanned border or by paying a few thousand rupees to those who guard it? The biggest argument against NRC is the way it was conducted in Assam and the results it threw up. Has it satisfied anyone? Has it succeeded in detecting illegal immigrants? The NRC in its present form is a stupid process that will divide the nation and throw taxpayers money down the drain as it happened in Assam.
If the government is serious about detecting illegal immigrants, it should immediately do three things. First, it should bring out a white paper about who is considered an Indian citizen and what is needed to prove it. One knows there are clear laws on this but there is a lot of confusion in the minds of the citizens, part of it due to the NRC process in Assam and part of it because of the misinformation being spread by vested interests. A white paper will, hopefully, clear all these doubts. Next, it should bring out a white paper on who it considers an illegal immigrant. One knows the answer to this is simple - that anyone who is not a citizen of India is an illegal immigrant. But with citizenship itself in doubt for a majority of Indians due to the documents being asked for in the NRC process, it will be better if the government clears the air on this subject. Finally, the government should sit with all political parties, some retired Supreme Court judges, retired bureaucrats of the level of secretaries in the Home and Defence ministries, historians and representatives from civil society to draw up an effective process to conduct the NRC.
The need to detect illegal immigrants and prevent further influx is not in doubt. Every country reserves the right not to allow foreigners from entering its shores without valid papers. A country like India cannot afford to allow illegal immigrants to use its woefully short and already strained infrastructure and take away jobs and business opportunities from its citizens. But it will not do if the process to detect these aliens casts doubt on the bona fides of its citizens. If the government is adamant about conducting the NRC, it has to design it in a manner that is acceptable to a majority of the people or it should scrap the whole thing and move on.