By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2019-12-25 14:05:30
That the power of protest by the common man bears fruit in a democracy is quite evident in the way the government is now backtracking, at least on the National Register of Citizens (NRC). First, the Prime Minister said in his Delhi rally that there was no talk of NRC (something that was not absolutely true), then the government sought to delink the NRC from the National Population Register (NPC) and lastly the biggest proponent of the NRC, Home Minister Amit Shah, finally admitted that there was no talk of conducting the NRC across India within the government (which again might not be absolutely true). Of course, a few defeats in state elections helped in changing the government view, but it was basically the apolitical and spontaneous rallies being held all over India by students and ordinary citizens that shook the government and made it realize that it was becoming unpopular.
But that brings us to another and very important question. For the last three months or more, Amit Shah, as Home Minister of India, has been thundering from various platforms that the NRC will be implemented all over India, come what may. Now he says that it has never been discussed within the government. How, then, was the Home Minister of India saying with such authority that it would be implemented? What role should ordinary citizens assume for Amit Shah when he addresses them from any platform? Does he speak as the Home Minister or as the BJP president? If it is the former, then he crossed his limits by saying that the NRC would be implemented across India if that was never discussed within the government. If it is the latter, then he should have clearly stated that it was the party agenda to implement the NRC. By mixing up the two, Shah has done a great disservice to the nation and created a fear psychosis in the minds of the ordinary people.
The BJP is fortunate that the opposition in India (except for local leaders like the firebrand Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal) is in a state of flux. There is no leader with a pan-India appeal to seize this moment and deal a body blow to it. Hence, the protests will fizzle out with time as ordinary people have neither the zeal nor the wherewithal to sustain popular protests for too long. The government will make these concessions and assure that what they are protesting against will not happen and the people will smugly go home thinking they have achieved what they set out to. If only there was a leader with pan-India following or if such a leader had fortuitously emerged from the protestors, the scenario would have been different. It is too much to hope for miracles from the opposition simply because if they had it in them, the CAA would not have passed the Rajya Sabha test. But divided by mutual hatred for each other, unwilling to concede even an inch to any other party and easily managed by the BJP, the opposition failed to unite and allowed the NDA to bring up the numbers in the upper house.
But the people, as well as the opposition parties, must keep in mind that this is just a strategic pullback by the BJP. Both the NRC and the CAA are part of its agenda as spelled out in its manifestos for a long time now. Party think tanks have also been pushing for both. Hence, it will try and bring them back at an opportune time. The opposition parties, instead of instigating the people (which often results in violence and arson as the crowd in street rallies cannot always be expected to remain peaceful) must sit together to draw up a strategy to counter all such moves by the ruling dispensation in Parliament itself. The NDA has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha. But it can be checked in the Rajya Sabha. The opposition parties must use that advantage to prevent what they consider 'unconstitutional' from getting through. As for the CAA, since it is already law, we can only wait and see whether the Supreme Court finds that it violates the Constitution.