The most salutary thing to happen during the tenure of this Central government has been the demise of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, hopefully never to be resurrected by any government in the future.
This Bill comprised the most brazen declaration yet of the coveted assertion that India is a Hindu nation.
The no-longer covert underpinning of that assertion was/is the coalescing conviction held by V.D. Savarkar and Mohammed Ali Jinnah: that India harbours two ill-at-ease nations – Hindus and Muslims.
Savarkar had, in his inaurgural speech as the newly elected president at the 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in Ahmedabad, stated that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations. This was three years before the Lahore Resolution of 1940, wherein the Muslim League asked for a separate country for Muslims. On August 15, 1943, from Nagpur, Savarkar clarified that he had no objection to the 1940 resolution.
The openly-voiced idea behind the Bill has been that it seeks to conclude the “unfinished business” of the Partition. Its advocates have argued that Muslims got what they wanted in 1947. India ipso facto became a Hindu nation to which no Muslim, however persecuted in either Pakistan or Bangladesh, has any right to seek refuge. Interestingly, but most revealingly, Afghanistan is also included in the provisions of the Bill; this is to underscore the point that Afghanistan was equally a part of “Akhand Bharat”.
The provisions and the philosophy of the now lapsed Bill ran counter to both the Assam Accord of 1985 and the basic structure of the Indian Constitution (secularism and non-discriminatory citizenship under Article 14). That did not matter to proponents of the Bill. Clearly, they saw in it the twin possibility of polarising the Northeast and laying the building blocks of a Hindu rashtra.
Even as we speak, the National Register of Citizens is excluding millions of Assamese under the provisions of the Assam Accord. The accord says those who entered Assam after March 24, 1971 are deemed “illegal immigrants” and be deported.
Simultaneously, the Centre is seeking to open the national doors to any and all non-Muslims persecuted on religious grounds in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. There is no answer to why people persecuted in Sri Lanka or Myanmar or Nepal may not be equal objects of the government’s generosity.
It should also be noted that even though India is not a signatory to the International Refugee Convention of 1951, the Bill’s provisions fall foul of customary international law in the matter of granting refugee status.
The most heartening thing is that the putsch for the Bill has been defeated not by some technical or legal fiat but by a spontaneous resistance movement throughout the Northeast, supported by informed opinion in the media.
It was hardly surprising that tribal and all other populations in these states saw the real and present danger, were the impugned Bill to become law, of losing land rights, job prospects to the proposed influx, and most of all of suffering a cultural inundation of catastrophic proportions.
To the great credit of the leaderships that propelled this resistance, they also made the all-important point of how the proposed Bill sought in fact to undermine secularism in India.
It should now be more clearly understood why Kashmiris have throughout the years since the adoption of the Indian Constitution, which accords ‘special status’ to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, feared the abrogation of Article 370. This eventuality would have the same consequences there as the defunct Bill was set to unleash in the Northeast.
The rejection of the Bill is therefore not a small matter; it expresses the firm resolve of Indian masses to say no to any such assault that may be calculated to frontally overthrow the founding principles of the Constitution and reconstitute the republic into a theocracy.
More power to “we the people”.
Badri Raina taught English literature at Delhi University.