Fires That Can Burn The Nation

The fires burning in the country are increasing and spreading. Assam has been added to the unnecessary and dangerous challenges ignited by our leaders. In the last column by the writer on Citizen Amendment Bill (CAB) the concluding paragraph stated “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.”

This a classic and dark irony. Something the world could so transparently witness, was missed by both the home minister and his leader, the prime minister of India. In a party rigidly controlled by the two, with the rest as total loyalists without an identity or voice or opinion, and in a government where the bureaucracy is as Kafkasque and invisible in exercising its power as commanded by the Dear Leader and Great Helmsman from Gujarat, this too is a typically predictable scenario. Now, certain insiders within the party and the government are whispering in murmurs that “this was an error in judgement, a big mistake, that they did not anticipate it”. Despite this, they seem to be confident that the protests will fade away in 24 or 48 hours.

This is exactly what they thought about Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) since February 2016 when the cops arbitrarily entered the campus for the first time since 1983 and picked up the then JNU Students Union president and two brilliant PhD student from the Centre of Historical Studies, and the regime went on a clampdown in a campus which has a great history of peaceful, militant, non-violent intellectual and political dissent.

They went ahead and did the same clampdown in Kashmir, albeit in a scale unprecedented in independent India, as if it is a war against its own people. They arbitrarily abrogated Article 370 and  35Awithout any discussion or debate, put all mainstream ‘nationalist’ political leaders in detention, including three former chief ministers, top businessmen, civil society leaders, lawyers and teachers, including  young children, packed the streets with tens of thousands of armed troops and armoured vehicles at every five feet in Srinagar and in the rest of the Valley, blocked internet and all phone lines, de facto denied the freedom to gather or publish news with government propaganda handouts ruling the roost, stopped opposition leaders, foreign diplomats and foreign journalists at the Srinagar airport, declared an undeclared curfew, and  put the entire valley under a kind of occupation and siege only witnessed in Palestine in recent times. On top of it, they said, routinely: “Everything is normal.”

Both JNU and Kashmir defied this fake state of normalcy in what was clearly an obvious state of ‘state-sponsored abnormalcy’. While eminent academics, writers, celebrities, former student leaders, civil society luminaries from India and abroad debated ‘nationalism and the idea of the nation-state at the Freedom Square in the JNU campus’, universities from across India, from Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jadavpur University (JU), Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, Presidency College, Kolkata and Calcutta University, Allahabad University (AU) to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), itself on a 139 day fast against the takeover of this prestigious institute by a generally considered failed BJP TV actor, among others, including students in Kerala and Pondicherry, united in solidarity and struggle. Students and faculty in Cambridge, Sussex, SOAS, California and Canada held protests in solidarity.

JNU became a national and international issue, and Kanhaiya Kumar, till then, unknown, became a super star and national icon of rebellion and resistance, with millions listening to his speech after his release from jail, while even the sold-out ‘Godi Media’ was forced to relay his speech ‘live’, as that of arrested Ph.D scholars Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya later.

Truly, you have to give the credit to the prime minister, his then illustrious HRD minister, and his loyalist vice-chancellor in JNU, and his strategic thinkers, for creating a volatile issue where there was none. Clearly, the same thing happened with the ‘Kashmir Model’, which they have now overplayed in abject overconfidence and masculine arrogance in delicate and porous border states like Assam and the Northeast, where the ethnic mix, combined with a troubled, restless and unresolved historical legacy between multiple indigenous and other communities, including tribal groups and insurgencies, have made the society a tender tinderbox of sorts; that is, if you rub it the wrong way and push the wrong button, however remote it may seem.

Amit Shah did exactly the same thing and he is now facing the fire which does not seem to be getting extinguished in the near future. Did he not listen to the local leadership, the intelligence bureau, the regional think-tanks? Did they not sense the mood on the ground which was as clear as daylight since they introduced CAB earlier which was vehemently opposed in Assam and the entire Northeast? Can’t they hear any other voice except their own?

Now, the entire Assam is burning and a muscle-flexing Amit Shah does not even have the courage to visit Shillong or Tawang. In an embarrassing move which the world is watching, the Japanese prime minister has cancelled his visit to India and Guwahati, and two top ministers in an angry Bangladeshi government too have refused to come while openly expressing their displeasure over Amit Shah’s comments that minorities are persecuted in Bangladesh (and let us not forget the vicious term of ‘termites’ used by him earlier implying Bangladeshi citizens).  

Several countries have advised their citizens not to visit India—even as beautiful and tragic Kashmir remains out of bound for Indian and foreign tourists for obvious reasons. At least two top US bodies have taken strong note of the discriminatory CAB, and one has gone to the extent of seeking sanctions against Amit Shah. This is embarrassing and shameful, to say the least.

Besides, neither the ‘Gujarat Model’ nor the ‘Kashmir Model’ seems to be working in Assam and its volatile neighbourhood. Even Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh have exploded – both drawing tens of thousands in protests on the streets. They have taken troops from Kashmir to Assam, in a perverse show of ‘Unity in Diversity’; they have declared curfew, internet blockades, shuts shops, schools, colleges, airports, bus-stands and streets with flag marches and  barricades, but millions have thronged the street in militant defiance in all parts of Assam. It’s like an endless, unceasing flood of resistance.

The office of RSS was burnt in one place, the homes of MPs and MLAs of the BJP and Asom Gana Parishad are being attacked; BJP and AGP leaders are resigning in protest; and even the Assam chief minister himself was holed up in the Guwahati airport for several hours because he could not face the protesting people on the streets. A press conference he had called was boycotted by the entire press in Assam while a TV channel’s office was attacked by the police. Top artists and citizens, including legendary filmmaker Jahnu Barua, are returning their awards or withdrawing their work from official functions. If this is not a mass movement, what is?

Several chief ministers of various states have wowed to not implement the National Register of Citizens and CAB in their states. In a landmark departure, the Left Democratic Front and United Democratic Front, along with other groups, are holding joint protest in Kerala, while the anti-CAB protests are being taken to the deepest interiors of the districts in the state. In Bengal, both the NRC and CAB have been rejected in toto by the government and the people. In AMU, 30,000 students have gone on fast, defying FIRs and police action. In Jamia, there are pitched battles with the students with several students injured and the police actually doing stone-pelting. Soon, inevitably, other campuses will join.

If this is normalcy, then Amit Shah surely has got his dictionary wrong. Indeed, for him, not only are the chickens coming home to roost, even the ‘termites’ seem to be returning back to demand their fundamental rights. The fact is that a draconian, discredited, discriminatory bill will not be allowed to be pushed into the people’s throats, even by a dictatorial regime camouflaged in democracy. And there are all signs to prove that.

It’s still time to reach out for consensus and become a flexible partner in a secular, plural democracy, instead of muscle-flexing all the time based on the doctrine of ‘my way or the highway’. The prime minister should intervene to stop the fires, withdraw the bill, go for consensus, listen to multiple voices in the Northeast and across India, and not push a socially polarizing and communal agenda which is so brazenly anti-constitutional, and so blatantly xenophobic, that it will surely push the entire country to the brink.

Don’t play with fire, mothers would say to their children. Now that students and youngsters are on the streets, the elders should heed and remember this prophetic childhood doctrine. If you play with fire, your hands too would burn. And, finally, the nation will suffer, the nation will burn.

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.

Citizenship Bill: AGP Parts Ways With BJP

Also Read: Assam’s Citizen Register: An Existential Crisis

The decision followed an AGP delegation’s meeting with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi, who asserted that the government will ensure its passage in Lok Sabha Tuesday, Bora said. “We made a last ditch attempt today to convince the Centre not to pass the Bill. But Singh told us clearly that it will be passed in Lok Sabha tomorrow. After this, there is no question of remaining in the alliance,” Bora said in New Delhi after meeting the home minister. The announcement followed AGP leader and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s statement here that the party would withdraw support to the government in the state if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in passed by Lok Sabha. The bill seeks to amend Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to people from minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 even if they don’t possess any proper document. The Bill has been opposed by a large section of people and organisations in the Northeast. The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI (M) and a few other parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill claiming that citizenship can’t be given on the basis of religion and that it is unconstitutional. (PTI)]]>