Citizenship (Amendment) Bill – Amit Shah Is Playing With Fire

Amit Shah’s “termites” are back, along with miscellaneous cockroaches, pests, insects and vermin. They have to be profiled, isolated, ghettoized, imprisoned in detention centres or concentration camps, and, finally, deported or thrown out of the country. That in his fertile imagination “termites” only stand for ‘Muslims’, the Muslims who live in India, and that they can’t even live here as ‘second class citizens’, only reflects the big picture: the RSS dream sequence and cathartic fantasy of the ‘Hindu Rastra’, like the Jewish State of Israel, or the White Supremacist dream of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

This perverse irony only reminds of what the Serbs did to the Muslims in Bosnia etc., in the recent past, the Hindutva fanatics did to innocent Muslim men and women in Gujarat 2002 as a state-sponsored experiment, Congress politicians in Delhi did to Sikh men and women in the winter of Delhi 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own bodyguards, and what Pakistani army officers and soldiers did to Bengali women en masse in Bangladesh in 1971. Also, what Adolf Hitler did to the six million Jews in Germany, Poland and the rest of Europe during the Holocaust, while the world played blind, deaf and dumb.

It is indeed double irony that the extremist, ultra orthodox and fanatic Rightwing in Israel led by a discredited Benjamin Netanyahu considers the prime minister of India a close buddy, in the same manner that he considers Donald Trump and Boris Johnson as ideological bum chums. Surely, Netanyahu and his ultras would know that the RSS backed Hitler during the mass murder of Jews in Germany and Europe. Also, his infinite hatred for the Palestinian Muslims it is which unites him with his dear white supremacist friends in the contentious international stage.

Maps change in history. Migrations are ritualistic and compulsive driven by adventure, greed, shelter, economy, social ostracision, genocides and wars. Germany has magnanimously accepted one million refugees from Syria. Similarly, India accepted with a generous heart tens of thousands of Bangladeshi refugees and backed the liberation struggle out there against the Pakistani dictatorship. There was an added five paisa tax on every postcard and inland letter, called the refugee tax, and no one grumbled. People in Bengal and Assam opened their doors and their hearts for the exiled people of Bangadesh,  once part of  the amorphous geographical unity of the subcontinent, emotionally, culturally and socially aligned in terms of food, cuisine, literature, music, and cinema.

So much so, a severe, highly infectious and painful eye inflammation became an epidemic in West Bengal, with red swollen eyes constantly watering. In a spoofy twist, Bengalis called it ‘Joi Bangla’ even as a painful eye drop called ‘Locula’ broke the demand-supply cycle the chemists’ shops. No one really felt bad; couples with red eyes happily married each other unafraid of spreading infection, and both solidarity and bonhomie flourished between the ‘outsiders’ and Indians across the border. No one then thought that they were dealing with “termites”, pests, cockroaches and vermin, unlike  a belligerent Amit Shah these days.

Amit Shah might not be really aware that both the national anthems of India and Bangladesh has been written by Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore, an icon on both sides of  river Padma; that Kazi Nazrul Islam, an iconic revolutionary poet is as popular across the porous borders, like Lallan Fakir, a Bangladeshi, the original source of great Baul songs and poetry.

Surely, Shah would not agree with an internationalist like Tagore’s sharp views on nationalism. Tagore e called it “carnivorous and cannibalistic’. Indeed, Tagore was united with the most refined minds, both male and female, across various maps and beyond borders, and he never chose to ghettoise romantic or human love within the trappings or mappings of nationalism. Indeed, he travelled all the way to Princeton to meet Einstein.  Wrote Tagore in a letter to his friend AM Bose in 1908: “Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”

On Monday, December 9, 2019, Amit Shah and his party has tabled a bill in the Lok Sabha which will turn the entire pluralist history of post-Independence secular India decisively upside down. It violates the essence of the Indian Constitution drafted by Bahasaheb Ambedkar and endorsed by the stalwarts of the freedom movement in which the RSS did not participate. It violates the basic premise of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which declares all citizens equal outside caste, sex, creed, religion or status. “Equality before law” is perhaps the most crucial feature of the Indian Constitution. As stated in the famous Keshavananda Bharti case in the Supreme Court, the basic structure of the Indian Constitution just cannot be changed, not even in Parliament by a brute majority. Clearly, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are aware that this contentious bill can be struck down in the apex court. However, their essential purpose is different and diabolical: to create social and political polarisation and consolidate their sinister “termite” politics of hate, targeting one community of Indian citizens.

Clearly, post the abolition of Article 370 in Kashmir, and putting 8 million Kashmir Muslims under siege and military occupation after August 5, 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) are the two vicious trumpcards for their next election campaign in 2024 –the Indian economy having totally failed with mass joblessness and the crashing of GDP. Even government data has shown that Swach Bharat is a lot of propaganda and hype, as is Skill India, Start-up India, Digital India etc. Indeed, even women are being raped and burnt alive as a public spectacle in an India where the “good days” have only arrived with a sinister brand of organised hate, polarisation and communal politics disguised as nationalism.

Amit Shah’s termite campaign as much as the NRC has boomeranged. Predictably, the CAB too would fall into the anti-catharsis of a Catch-22  situation. Here is why:

The latest NRC results after spending a few thousand crores shows 19 lakh non-citizens. A large chunk of them constitute Hindus, Bengali Hindus, Gorkhas, Boros, indigenous communities and tribals. So will these “termites” be crushed, deported and jailed? Ironically, the BJP is now opposing NRC in Assam with the cut-off date fixed on August 24, 1971, as per the Assam Accord signed between Rajiv Gandhi and the All Assam Students Union (AASU).

Amit Shah tried to sell the NRC card in West Bengal in the recent bye-elections, targeting the Bengalis who have come to Bengal after 1971 from Bangladesh. The BJP lost all the three elections and there is a virtual divide within the state unit with a section of the BJP leadership saying that the NRC communal polarisation will just not work in West Bengal.

The entire North-east is united in its opposition to CAB, despite the opportunistic amendments in the tribal areas. BJP’s ally, Asom Gono Parishad (AGP) and AASU are vehemently opposed to it. Like in the recent past, there are daily bandhs and mass protests in Assam and its neighbourhood called by several united fronts and civil society groups. Even Arunachal Pradesh, Megahalaya and Manipur are fully against CAB, as is the united front of the North East Students Association.

Amit Shah is playing with fire. It is a simmering volcano with which he is playing a dangerous game. It might flare up, and the cost in terms of social division and possible violence and strife will be infinite.

Religion In Indian Politics

When Secular Is Mocked As ‘Sick-ular’

BJP has launched an aggressive election campaign on Hindu ‘victimhood’ that requires to be repaired (sic) with attempts to enforce its supremacy over others

Cradle of at least three and home of many more, India is what it is because of the multiplicity of faiths. Religion and religiosity are integral to its culture that has had a continuity few others have.

Call it mutual ‘tolerance’ or ‘acceptance’, Indians professing different faiths live together despite past foreign military invasions followed by conversions, whether they were forced by the sword, coerced through temptations or voluntary. There is assimilation even as people are sought to be divided on religious lines.

What is ‘secular’ in modern-day parlance has evolved with Indian connotations and convenience, just as what is ‘communal’ has to explain what is not ‘secular’. And ‘secular’ itself has undergone transformation from being anti-faith and irreligious to treating all faiths with equal respect. 

For two millennia-plus, India has remained pluralist and yet, in terms of numbers, overwhelmingly (79.8 percent) Hindu. 

And yet, the current election is witnessing an aggressive discourse on Hindu ‘victimhood’ that requires to be repaired with attempts to enforce its supremacy over others. Hindutva, the ploy used to give political turn to the majority faith, gives new twists to the very understanding of the terms ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’. Secular is spelt ‘sick-ular’.  

Three top members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including an estranged member of the Gandhi ‘dynasty’ courted controversy last week for appearing to threaten people to vote for them.

A video showed women and child welfare minister Maneka Gandhi warning a Muslims’ gathering to vote for her or be shunned if she returns to power. “I am winning with the help of the people. But if my victory comes without the support of Muslims, then I will not feel good… “It will leave a bitter taste. And then when a Muslim comes for any work, then I will think let it be.”

The other new incident involved Sakshi Maharaj, a Hindu monk, who told a gathering in Kanpur that he would “curse” those who do not vote for him. “When a saint comes to beg and isn’t given what he asks for, he takes away all the happiness of the family and in turn gives curse to the family,” Maharaj said, adding he was quoting from sacred Hindu scriptures. He is facing 34 criminal charges, including alleged murder, robbery and cheating.

These offenders are from the ruling alliance. But in a growing list, politicians from other parties and alliances, like Navjot Singh Sidhu, Mayawati and Azam Khan, have also used religious ploys, sexist remarks, hate and intimidation to win support of the electorate even though soliciting votes on religious lines or threatening voters is prohibited.

The Election Commission, while struggling to maintain its authority and a semblance of fairness, has admitted before the country’s highest court that it is ‘toothless’ and ‘helpless’ before the offenders.

For the first time, the statutory body conducting the world’s largest democratic exercise has slapped token punishments of exclusion from public speaking, using its limited powers, to some of these offenders for violating the EC-set norms by appealing to religion or employing religion-related issues. But the punishment has been ridiculed by some who play to the public gallery and some others have repeated their offences.

Besides Sakshi Maharaj, ‘curse’ has become the new cussword. It is astounding that what one read in fairy tales and mythology is used today to damn opponents.

The most controversial curse has come from Pragya Singh Thakur, a lady monk connected with a Hindu extremist body, nominated by the BJP to contest. Unique and complicated, her case needs elaboration. She is on trial for offences ranging from conspiracy to murder and transporting explosives. For want of evidence, a special court recently exonerated her for the 2007 blast on Samjhauta Express, the train that links India and Pakistan. Seventy Pakistanis returning home and Indians visiting their relations in Pakistan died.

The court passed severe strictures against the investigators who first probed a Muslim group and then switched to “Hindu terror”, allegedly on political orders. In effect, none has been convicted and punished, even as India demands of Pakistan to try and punish those involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Thakur said she had ‘cursed’ the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare who she alleges tortured her. The police officer died fighting the Pakistani militants in Mumbai. Honoured posthumously, Karkare had also led the investigations against Thakur in other cases including one pertaining to blasts at a mosque. Thakur now declares that he died “within five weeks” of her ‘curse’. She later regretted her remark, but wants everyone who implicated her in terror attacks to apologise. 

Modi has defended her nomination, declaring that there is “nothing called Hindu terrorism.” Legalities apart, her nomination, while she is out on bail on health grounds, allows her to convert herself from a terror suspect and a victim of her investigators and the judiciary who were ostensibly doing their job, to a heroine upholding her faith.

Admittedly, Thakur is not convicted. She is among the many contesting this election, like others with criminal cases. But in nominating her, Modi and BJP that routinely hand out certificates of nationalism and tag anyone who disagrees with their dominant narrative as a traitor, are rooting for an accused in a terrorism case.

Individuals apart, how faith determines the fate of friends and adversaries is clear from BJP’s official Twitter account. It quotes party chief Amit Shah’s speech that explicitly declared that if re-elected, it would implement the Citizenship bill for the entire country and would act against all infiltrators who were not Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist.

The party’s stand on different communities is no secret. The important thing is the fear that this position elicits among potential voters.

Those obviously excluded are Muslims — invaders who stayed on to rule — and Christians, although those who came as traders and turned colonizers hardly exist in present-day India. The targets could be members of the 24 million community that accounts for 2.3 percent of the totally population.  But they are ‘outsiders’.

The most telling exclusion – one hopes it’s inadvertent — is that of Parsis, the Zoroastrian migrants from Iran who made India their home 14 centuries ago — in Gujarat, the home-state of Modi and Shah. 

The opposition has no answer to this campaign. By not countering the BJP on lynching and numerous other issues that pertain to the minorities and depressed sections of the society, the opposition parties by and large, but the Congress especially, have conceded to the BJP’s ideological narrative.

Sadly, Shah’s viewing the electorate as Ali-versus-Bajrangbali is finding tacit acceptance from rising urban middle classes. Unlikely to end with these elections, it is now a reality of our times, unlikely to go away.

One is sticking the neck out mid-way through the voting process, with its outcome barely three weeks away. Forget arguing over Modi’s development plank and his many achievements and failures, he could get a fresh mandate by dividing people on religious lines, instilling fear in them. But if he fails, it will be because a resilient society that has lived in plurality for long has its own silent, even if opaque, way of dealing with such attempts.

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