Call it gumption or desperation, the ruling political force is now out to rearrange the electorate ahead of the 2019 general elections. Indeed, it is out to do so by hook or crook, and never mind the pertinent questions that may be asked of it.
We are told Assam is overloaded with illegitimate residents, but the government simultaneously seeks to pass legislation that would allow the Indian state to grant citizenship to any and all non-Muslim aspirants from you know where – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Clearly, this would bolster both the majority demographics of the country and the vote bank of the Bharatiya Janata Party. No matter that we will be overloading the nation.
The silver lining here is that good old Prafulla Mahanta who had signed the Assam Accord with Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, has to his great credit come out to say that the Citizenship Amendment Bill would not be acceptable to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for two reasons: one, that it contravenes the basic principle that informs the constitution of India, namely, secularism; and, two, because the fundamental objection of the party has not been one centred on religious identity but ethnic primacy. He has gone on to say that were the BJP to push the Bill hard, the AGP would have no hesitation to pull out of the state government alliance in Assam. More power to him.
If in Assam the BJP seeks to throw people out, in Jammu and Kashmir it seeks to throw people in; this by abrogating Article 35A of the constitution which would allow non-state subjects to both obtain employment in state services and acquire property in the state. A sort of compliment to the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, because removing Article 35A would have the same consequence in effect – enable non-Muslims to enlarge the Jammu and Kashmir electorate. Put another way, the idea is to bolster Assamese identity but diminish the Kashmiri one. And, do note, there is no talk of evicting refugees from west Punjab from the state, only the handful of Rohingya who, even in their wretched condition, must be deemed “dangerous” because of their religious identity.
Then there are the good non-resident Indians. Living away from “home,” they are our super-nationalists who have the strong belief that they ought to have rights and privileges which not only match those Indians who live and struggle here in the “motherland,” but far exceed theirs. In recent years though there have been honourable exceptions, if only rather very countable ones, of those who have succeeded in transcending embarrassing dualities of attitude and relocated in parts of India to engage in admirable groundwork.
But, paradoxically, whereas such honest ones have tended to become thorns in the side of official policies, it is the foreign-located super-nationalists, chiefly in the Western world, and mostly non-Muslim, who are closer to the official heart. The fact is they are the ones who shout “Modi, Modi.” What else is needed to grant them the right, would you believe, to voting in Indian elections by “proxy.” Oddly, no one is speaking up for the right of migrant workers within the country to vote by proxy.
To wit, the ruling dispensation has all angles covered. At last report, the famous VVPATS were either not forthcoming in required numbers or not working. But, not to worry, the EVMs, discarded by most or all Western democracies as unreliable and dicey, will do their work.
And don’t forget about the putsch to implement “simultaneous” polls to the Centre and states. This to rid the democratic republic of the nuisance of frequent exercises of choice. Too distracting from you know what, too costly, and, most of all, too damn risky. So the grand idea of bringing so diverse an electorate as ours to a simplified, no-nonsense consensus around a colossus who may then proceed to lord over the nation unhindered by democratic nit-picking from one day to another. All this makes great economic sense as well: where non-performing assets, government advertisements, sundry flamboyant tamashas bearing on the lives of the one percent help to project a magnificent image of India, the unconscionable seven thousand or so crore spent on elections only enhances democratic carping and ‘anti-national’ brouhaha.
The point is who is to stop all these constructive things from happening? In better times, one would have said: the people of India. The only ones now who seem to have become peripheral to the concerns of the mighty republic.
Thus, many who wish the republic well are caught breathing hard in confined spaces and telling their beads for divine intervention. They forget that the gods have habitually favoured Caesar and that the meek must wait for their promised reign in heaven.
Badri Raina taught English literature at Delhi University.