My Years In Parliament House

I have never been a lawmaker, but am seized by nostalgia now that India’s Parliament Complex is set to go, replaced by another. A parliamentary correspondent for long, I am aware I am not breaching any rules, traditions or Privileges that govern the temple of the world’s largest democracy. I only exercise my right as a citizen, and a voter.

One assumed that members and ministers, parties and governments, come and go, but parliament’s surroundings and its ethos that have evolved over decades will continue forever. But that is not to be.

Designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, begun a century back and completed in 1927, it is set for retro-fitting, whatever it eventually means, to accommodate offices and other facilities, allowing more functional space.

There seems little consulting and debate on why it is necessary to demolish what is existing. It is expected to come up, rather hastily, by 2022, to mark 75 years of Independence.

Something is absent. Bhoomi Pujan or ground-breaking was performed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Neither the President who constitutes the Parliament nor the Vice President who is Chairman of the Rajya Sabha were part of the ceremony.

Times are a-changing in India. The plea that the existing structure is very Indian has fallen on deaf ears. It is based on Chausath Yogini Temple in Morena, Madhya Pradesh that Lutyens visited in early 1900s.

But old is gold in some other democracies. The United States Congress premises like the Senate Hall, are over 250 years old. The British Parliament building, over 400 years old, is under repairs and will reopened after five years. These structures were never replaced; only refurbished. 

There are other, equally modern, ways to accommodate more members and offices. An expansion rather than a hugely expensive (Rs 971 crore or $131 million) demolish-and-rebuild course would have sufficed.

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The new complex will be bigger, and more modern, we are told. Compared to the present 545-odd, it will have 888 seats in the Lok Sabha, with an option to increase it to 1,224. When is delimitation due? Granting that India’s is the biggest, which other democracy has such large number of lawmakers?

As plans unfold and get concrete shape, literally, the present round structure supported on imposing Gothic pillars will probably go. Incidentally, their number used to be a ‘difficult’ general knowledge (GK) quiz for students and those appearing for competitive examinations. Why, just walking past them has helped lawmakers and officials in frail health keep fit!

A model of new Parliament building

One is not sure if the new 21st century structure will keep the numerous statues and portraits that abound, from Chandragupta Maurya (321-296 BC) to the sages, saints and social reformers down the ages, to contemporary freedom fighters and pioneer parliamentarians. One can only hope they will be stored away safely, and restored with respect due to them.

For the uninitiated, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the two Houses are where the real action occurs. Issues are debated and legislations are discussed and passed. Before what media report as ‘pandemonium’ became a rule more than exception, attending it was educating. Opposition extracted information during Question Hour despite ministers’ efforts to hold it back.

I am lucky to have reported some of the most memorable speeches. Like Bikaner Maharajah Karni Singh opposing, and Jammu and Kashmir Maharajah Karan Singh supporting the abolition of the privy purses of erstwhile princely states. N K P Salve attacking incumbent premier Morarji Desai for alleged favours to latter’s son. George Fernandes defending the Desai Government, only to switch sides within hours.

Representing a thoroughly depleted opposition, Madhu Dandavate paid a moving tribute to an assassinated Indira Gandhi, mourning that while country had a new premier, Rajiv will never get another mother.

There was no glory, but certainly grace, in defeat the way V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee went down after defending their doomed governments.

There were orators like Hiren Mukherjee and Nath Pai who excelled in English and Vajpayee, in Hindi. Sadly, the era of oratory and orators who spoke without malice is long over.

Equally sadly, Parliament’s new plan does not provide for the Central Hall. It is tantamount to kicking off the ladder on which parliamentary democracy has climbed. There seems no place for such sentiments, anyway.

ALSO READ: Modi Govt’s Contempt For Parliament

Jawaharlal Nehru made his “Tryst With Destiny” speech here at the midnight hour heralding the birth of independent India. The Constitution was debated here. After each Lok Sabha election, Leaders of winning party or parties in alliance were elected here.

If exceptions are to be remembered, Acharya Kripalani and Jayaprakash Narayan chose Morarji over others in1977. Initially chosen, Devi Lal, to everyone’s surprise, put his turban on V P Singh’s head in 1989. And in 2004, Sonia Gandhi received applause and rosebuds, but eventually listened to her “inner voice” and passed on the premiership to Manmohan Singh.

Central Hall was where foreign dignitaries, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama among them, addressed Indian parliamentarians. There is no other place where the President of the Republic opens the Budget session each February.

Central Hall has been the veritable gallery of greats of Indian democracy. Where and how 25 portraits from Mahatma Gandhi to Tagore and Netaji Bose to six of the former prime ministers and many opposition stalwarts will find their places? Will the 21st century Parliament leave behind those hallowed traditions of the twentieth? Is the ‘restoration’ going to be selective, as those opposing the new complex fear, with ample justification?

Beyond these ‘formalities’, Central Hall displaced parliament’s “human face”. Sad, again, that this must be talked in the past tense. Ministers and Members would meet here informally and sort out many things that they would be otherwise rigid about; where delicate issues and even stalled business were resolved.

Dubbed India’s most privileged coffee house – also the cheapest – Central Hall was where the media was allowed to join the lawmakers’ adda, to talk informally, gain perspectives, and gather political gossip.

There was mutual respect, even bonhomie. One could see Mamata Banerjee standing respectfully before Somnath Chatterjee who she had defeated in an earlier election. You could discuss with Sharad Pawar a no-no issue like farmers’ suicide in Maharashtra, or cinema with Sushma Swaraj or cricket with Arun Jaitley – even watch an ongoing cricket match on the two TV sets installed, over coffee and toast-butter.

What transpired there could be reported, but without attributing it to the place, unless one wanted to flaunt access to the high and mighty – and boast, as some scribes do, “Oh, I told so-and-so…”

Perhaps, it is just as well that Central Hall will be a thing of the past. Old world charm and some grace are bound to go with it. Like my witnessing opposition stalwart Chandra Shekhar fondly asking Chaudhary Randhir Singh, his erstwhile Congress colleague, “Aap ko Governor banva dein?” Three days later came the announcement: Chaudhary was Governor of Sikkim.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Modi’s Gujarat Model Blown Apart By A Virus

How myths collapse when faced with reality! When Narendra Modi swept to power in 2014, his meteoric rise from chief minister to the national political stage was attributed essentially to the success of his Gujarat model of development which was touted to have transformed his home state into a living paradise. But six years later as India battles the Covid-19 pandemic, the Gujarat model of development is unravelling.

The fancy infrastructure in the state’s main urban centres, the uninterrupted power supply, the extensive road network and the flow of private investment have proved to be of little help in handling the rising number of novel coronavirus cases. 

For the record, Gujarat is among the top three states along with Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu which have the highest number of corona infections and deaths in the country. Till May 23, Gujarat had recorded a total of 13,300 coronavirus cases with a seven-day growth rate of 7.66 per cent and over 800 fatalities, second only to Maharashtra which tops the list. 

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Unable to handle the corona crisis, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani has consistently blamed the spread on the large number of Gujarati Muslims who travelled to Delhi in early March to attend a religious meeting of the Tablighi Jamaat, “a missionary movement”.

While this finger-pointing helps push the Bharatiya Janata Party’s communal agenda, the truth is that Gujarat is currently paying the price for its poor public health system. It is an acknowledged fact that successive state governments did not invest adequately in public health facilities. With the state showing little interest in this vital sector, it has been open season for private players whose medical services are more expensive and, therefore, beyond the reach of the poor. 

If Rupani is struggling today to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, Modi has to share the blame as he did little to ramp up the rickety health care infrastructure in the state during the 13 years he was chief minister.   

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The budgetary allocation for the health sector in Gujarat can only be described as meagre. The state’s outlay for health and family welfare sector was Rs.923 crore for 2020-21, down from Rs.10,000 crore spent in 2018-19. These official figures tell their own story. Even states like Rajasthan and Bihar, which are not exactly known for their high-quality health infrastructure, have higher budgetary allocations for the public health care facilities.

In that case, what exactly is the famous Gujarat model of development all about?  This model is essentially focused on building infrastructure – from roads and highways to tall impressive buildings, and attracting foreign and domestic investments. During the years when Modi was chief minister, Vibrant Gujarat summits, were organised every alternate year to attract private investment to the state. This high-profile event was chalked up as Modi’s personal achievement as it brought in private investment to the state. This open invitation to industrialists to set up shop in Gujarat also won him the support of the corporate sector which literally went out on a limb to support Modi’s candidature as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial face in 2014.

But in the process of building infrastructure, encouraging industrial growth and promising ease of doing business, Modi failed to pay sufficient attention to human development which clearly did not figure as a priority area for him. The result was that while Gujarat made impressive gains on the economic front and registered high growth rates, its social indicators lagged far behind. 

ALSO READ: How Covid-19 Will Change Our Lives

The economic strides made by Gujarat were flouted as a success story, worthy of replication across the country. However, this was only half the story. It failed to tell you that the economic gains had not percolated down to benefit the larger mass of people and had instead been cornered by a small affluent minority. The vast majority continued to live in poor conditions with little access to quality health care or hygiene standards. Whether it is the health of children or the mortality rates of adults, Gujarat does not boast of a good record.  

Then again the Gujarat model has not been kind to the large army of migrant workers who have travelled from as far as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar Odisha and Rajasthan to work in the state’s industrial units or in the unorganised sectors. Since most of the migrants are poor and semi-literate and, unable to speak up for their rights. 

If it was not for the corona crisis, the plight of these migrant workers would have gone unnoticed. They have been living and working in pathetic conditions with the host state failing to acknowledge their contribution to Gujarat’s economy. Denied their wages during the lockdown and no proper food and shelter, angry migrant workers in Surat and Vadodara have staged angry protests, which have even turned violent on occasion, to demand food and a passage back home to their native village.

And if it was not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the myth about the Gujarat model of development would not have been busted. It took a miniscule virus to expose the underbelly of Gujrat model.

‘Traffic At Shaheen Bagh A Mess But A Small Price For…’

Mohammad Atif, a 24-year-old M Tech student who stays in Shaheen Bagh, says the cause to save our Constitution is bigger than the minor inconvenience for the local commuters in the locality

I belong to Lucknow but have been staying in south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area for several months at my cousin’s house. I came here to complete my M. Tech dissertation which coincided with the eruption of Jamia protests and the aftermath. And what a time it has been to be in Shaheen Bagh!

I had to visit my institute in South Delhi daily when the protests were in full swing. I did have to take a longer route to reach because of the arterial 2.5 km stretch at Shaheen Bagh being closed. The protest site isn’t disturbing people as much as the excessive blockades /barriers put in place by the administration even when some feel they are not needed.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Must Talk To Protesters’

Even newspapers/websites are now reporting that a few of the alternative routes didn’t even need to be blocked and is causing problems to people unnecessarily, especially those travelling to and from Noida, Sarita Vihar, Kalindi Kunj, Jamia, and an alternative route to Faridabad.

Indeed travelling into and out of Shaheen Bagh is even more cumbersome for a daily commuter. For me too, with petrol prices remaining consistently high, travelling the extra stretch to reach my institute on a bike has increased the budget for sure, though not considerably.

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Many people who earlier used to get picked up and dropped at their respective houses for their offices in Noida now have to take the Metro as the cabs can’t enter inside Shaheen Bagh. This might be a difficult thing, especially for women who get dropped during the night. Moreover, travelling in the Metro also cause a dent in many people’s pockets. Middle class might not feel the pinch as much, but the lower income group for whom every penny is important, is finding it more difficult.

However, most locals are considering it as their contribution to nation-building and don’t mind suffering a little bit if the protest makes their voices reach the powers that be. Ambulances and school buses are moving easily though.

WATCH: ‘Modi Has Woken Up A Sleeping Tiger’

The protest site is near the commercial hub of Shaheen Bagh, so many a shop, outlet etc. have been closed for two months now. It is affecting the livelihoods of people, but again they feel that they are contributing in saving the Constitution and all that it stands for. We just hope that a solution is reached soon and the government initiates a dialogue with the protesters.

There are a few residences near the protest site and I wonder how they are handling all the sounds from loudspeakers day in and day out, though I have been told and have witnessed too ke protest bahut tameez se ki ja rahi hai. Poora khayal rakha ja raha hai ke kisi ko koi pareshani na ho (The protests are being done in a very nice manner and care is being taken that nobody suffers because of the protests).

Union Budget 2020: A Missed Opportunity To Tackle Unemployment

Continued lack of employment opportunities for India’s youth has already led to disaffection among them and that is evident partly from the manner in which student unrest (albeit triggered by the Modi regime’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act) has spread. Half of India’s 1.3 billion people are below the age of 25. This year, it is expected that the average age of an Indian will be 29 years (for China, it will be 37). As education levels rise for young Indians so do their aspiration for good jobs and better standard of living. If employment rates don’t rise their hopes will not be met.

That could be a ticking time bomb. Many believe the countdown to an explosion has already begun. Educated urban youth in India have readily joined the movement against the Citizenship Act, which is being seen as discriminating against the largest minority community in India, Muslims, who constitute more than 14% of Indians. The youth’s opposition to the Act must be seen holistically. It is a symptom of the greater disaffection that young Indians feel. Even as the number of those who graduate from schools and colleges increases, their prospects of landing desirable jobs have diminished. Before long this could be a problem instead of the demographic dividend that a youthful India could benefit from.

In that context, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget has missed a big opportunity. The annual Budget in India has always been a mega economic event in the country. Finance ministers, regardless of which political party they represent, use the exercise, which ought to be a routine balancing of the government’s expenditure and revenue streams, not only as an opportunity to announce the government’s economic policies but also as a podium to offer sops and incentives to different sections of the population—an exercise that is seen as a means to garner electoral support from voters.

ALSO WATCH: Youth Slam Govt Over Lack Of Jobs

As a consequence, the media hype gets heightened and the Budget’s announcement in Parliament becomes a red-letter day for newspapers, TV channels and other publications. In recent years, as the Indian economy has become less regulated; tax structures have become simplified; and government controls on different economic sectors have loosened, the Budget’s importance has declined. It is no longer an event that offers governments a chance for grandstanding or making big announcements for changing policies or ushering in new economic strategies.

The Indian economy has been ailing in recent months. It is probably at the worst low point that has been witnessed in over a decade. Last year, GDP growth rate slumped to 4.8% from 2018’s 6.8%; prices across many categories of products, including food, rose; and sales of consumer products stagnated. Industries, including automobiles, white goods, and other categories held off investment plans as inventories of unsold products built up. The youth—65% of Indians are under 35—were impacted adversely too as estimates of the unemployment rate rose to nearly 8% at the end of 2019.

ALSO WATCH: Nothing In This Budget To Create Jobs

In her Budget, Sitharaman announced a series of incentives—personal income tax cuts; bank deposit insurance; and some infrastructure investments—but none of them were designed specifically to increase the potential for generating more employment. Most of India’s youth are based in rural parts of the country. Nearly 66% of Indians live in villages. And while 44% of Indians are employed in agriculture, the sector accounts for a shade over 15% of GDP. Labour productivity in the sector is low and many Indians are what economists call “disguised unemployed”—that is they work on farms but don’t add anything in terms of incremental output.

In fact, it has been argued that if rural youth, ostensibly working on overcrowded farms, get the opportunity to move to other sectors and find work, the productivity of Indian farms could actually go up. But there lies the rub. Where are those alternative jobs? India’s Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, and some of his ministerial colleagues have often stated that India’s youth have opportunities galore in the informal sector—to be small entrepreneurs who are self-employed. Those are facetious statements, designed more to divert attention from the real problem of unemployment than to alleviate it. Otherwise, how does one explain the phenomenon of post graduates and graduates applying in thousands for menial posts such as that of a government department’s peon or a municipality’s sweeper?

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Yet, there may be a kernel of an idea for employment generation in those statements. If the finance minister, in her Budget, had devised incentives for unemployed youth or other budding entrepreneurs to set up small businesses—through liberal grants of seed capital; subsidised land for building small manufacturing or trading establishments; and facilitation for marketing and distribution of products and services—that could lead to heightened entrepreneurial activities. Such incentives, if properly targeted in the rural and semi-urban parts of the country where agriculture or farm-related enterprises could move the rural sector up the value curve, it could see the blooming of millions of tiny, small, and even medium enterprises. In turn each of these enterprises could generate employment—not on a large industrial scale—but in modest numbers. If a tiny enterprise hires even four or five workers, 10,000 of them could hire 50,000 young people. The multiplier effect of such an initiative is easy to conceive.

To be sure, Mr Modi’s government, in its first term (2014-19) flagged off many well-publicised schemes: Skill India, which was aimed at re-skilling young Indians; and Startup India, aimed at handholding and helping entrepreneurs to set up enterprises. None of these has attained the levels of success that were envisaged or promised. If such programmes are conflated into comprehensive opportunities for fresh Indian graduates from schools and colleges and offered to them as they finish their education, particularly in rural and semi-urban India but also in urban areas, they could not only be opportunities for unconventional employment but also serve to build small enterprises by young entrepreneurs that could further employ other young people.

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Some of this is happening informally. But the need of the hour is for India’s government to formalise such activity and make it a widespread movement. The definition of a budget is to balance spending and earning; but in India, budget-making could also be the opportunity for governments to think out of the box and create something that could address what is perhaps the country’s biggest issue—a burgeoning population of young people but a diminishing prospect of finding employment for them. India’s youthful demography is unique. Nowhere in the world are there as many young people as there are in India. The strategy to find opportunities for them has to be equally unique. The Budget for this year offered a platform that could have been used to do just that. Sadly, that opportunity was missed.

Anti-Citizenship Law Protest In Delhi

‘If Amit Shah Can’t Budge On CAA, Shaheen Bagh Won’t Either’

Shaheen Kousar, a 44-year old protester at Shaheen Bagh, tells LokMarg why Muslim women have come out to resist Modi government’s move on Citizenship Act and National Register of Citizen

Yes, I am Shaheen from Shaheen Bagh. And I, along with many other women, have resolved to take this battle forward with my faith and inner strength. The Modi government has to listen to what we have to say about CAA-NRC. Is the government wondering as to why the Muslim women who did not take to streets even when the Triple Talaq Bill was brought in, have now come out in such a strong manner? Because now the very existence of our children and our own existence and this country’s social fabric is at stake.

Our protest site is located near NH-24 and is known as the Shaheen Bagh Highway. While some people are complaining that our protest is affecting traffic, many other people from other parts of Delhi are coming to us and interacting with us and telling us that they support us.

It is heartening to see that people from all religions are showing their love and support to us. It’s not like we don’t feel cold and tired. We go home only for 4-5 hours every day. But till the time we are at the protest site, people who have their residence near the site have opened their homes (including their kitchens and washrooms) for us.

People used to say that in big cities people don’t even interact with their neighbours, but look at the beauty of it, how people are now trusting complete strangers because they believe in a common goal. To put it succinctly, the warmth of human interactions isn’t letting us feel the cold.

Moreover, we are protesting in an organized manner. We have divided duties among ourselves. Some people are responsible for food, others for sanitation, and a few others for security. Thankfully the organisation of the protest has been so good that no untoward incident has taken place. Is bar aar ya paar wali bat hai (This is a do or die situation). If our Home Minister isn’t ready to go back an inch, then we are also staying put here.

It’s not like we don’t understand the nitty-gritties of what an act like CAA entails deep down. Having to manage chilly weather, biting winters coupled with rains, police batons, household work as well as office work, nothing is going to weaken our resolve that the government take this act back.

Amit Shah as well as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi have said it is just about giving citizenship to people (except Muslims) from three countries. Fine, but then what are these detention centres being prepared for? It is for those inside the country who won’t be able to prove their citizenship. The government is giving confusing signals whether detention centres exist or not. This time we aren’t going to take things at face value.

If they can hurt unarmed and vulnerable students in Jamia and JNU, who is to say that things are going to be better later on? The NRC exercise in Assam showed there were only 19 lakh people who couldn’t prove their citizenship, then the government brought in CAA. Now they are talking about NPR (National Population Register).

I am a director at a school and by God’s grace, like many other women, I have been able to manage my home, my professional life as well as coming to the protest site. We are doing all this for our nation, for our children and we hope God will keep providing us with the strength to carry forward. If the kids can be strong and fearless in the face of brutality fir to hum bhi beraham aur tang-nazar logon ke samne aawaz utha hi sakte hain. Magar hum wo aawaz shanti se uthana chahte hain. (if students can show their resistance to police brutality, we too can raise our voice against a suppressive, and narrow-vision regime. But we want to raise this voice democratically and peacefully). Our resolve should speak volumes.

Deconstructing India’s New Citizenship Law

In an impassioned speech to mark the launch of his party’s campaign for the Delhi elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly assured Indian Muslims that the recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) or the proposed roll-out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would not discriminate against those who were born in India. This comes in the wake of widespread protests, mainly by urban students, across India. The protests, including violent incidents leading to destruction of public property and clashes with police, spread across India, before being quelled.

What were the reasons for the sudden and spontaneous uprising by students? Mr Modi and his colleagues in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attribute it to their political rivals, chiefly the Congress party, who they claim have provoked the agitations by the students in order to gain electoral advantage in the forthcoming state elections, notably in Delhi, which goes to the polls in early 2020. But Mr Modi’s critics and the student agitators believe that the CAA and, potentially, the NRC, discriminate against Muslims, while they favour almost all other religious minorities. The Act and the register, critics feel, will further marginalise India’s population of 200 million Muslims and turn the country into a majoritarian state, dominated by Hindus, which is contrary to the secularist tenet of the nation’s Constitution.

What exactly does the CAA intend to do? Primarily, the Act amends the existing Indian Citizenship law, which prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens. The old law prohibits illegal foreigners who enter India without valid visas or travel documents from staying in the country and denies them Indian citizenship. Under the new Act, which Mr Modi’s government has formulated, there are exceptions to that law. Now, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and jains (notably not Muslims), if they have genuinely immigrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, will be allowed to stay in India and can be eligible for citizenship if they live or work in the country for six years. The government believes that this will provide sanctuary to those who have fled other countries because of religious persecution.

What then is the controversy surrounding the CAA? The Modi regime’s critics argue that the new Act discriminates against Muslims and, therefore, goes against the secular principles in the Indian Constitution. By separating Mulsims and non-Muslims, the Act, critics feel incorporates religious discrimination into a law and that runs counter to India’s long-standing secular principles. If illegal immigrants from other religions are allowed to seek refuge legally in India, why not also the Muslims who are persecuted in other countries. People belonging to certain sects in Pakistan (Ahmadis, for instance) or in Myanmar (Rohingyas) face oppression and persecution in their countries. Why should they be denied sanctuary? they ask.

What is the controversy over the NRC? The NRC is a register of people who are able to show proper credentials to prove that they came to India before March 24, 1971, the eve of the formation of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), which neighbours India. Initially, the register was introduced in Assam, which has for decades faced a problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Before the register was published, the BJP government had rooted for it but after it was found to be ridden by errors—millions, primarily Bengali Hindus, were excluded—it was scrapped and could now be re-framed. The CAA and the NRC are interlinked. Now, non-Muslims who were exclude from the register could seek citizenship and not face deportation, particularly in states such as Assam.

The Modi regime, led by Home minister Amit Shah, now wants to roll out the NRC across all Indian states. This would mean illegal immigrants would have to prove their credentials in order to be entitled to permission to stay on in India. Critics believe that coupled with the CAA this could discriminate against Muslims who have migrated to India and have been staying in the country for a long time. Non-Muslims who are not on the NRC could be protected by the CAA and, hence, seek citizenship by naturalisation, while Muslims who are on listed on the register would be denied the right to stay.

What is the provocation for the protests? The student agitation—which Mr Modi and his colleagues in government say is a movement by “urban Naxals” (a reference to the ultra-Left Wing violent uprisings that peaked in the 1970s)—is fuelled by the view that the new law would discriminate against the largest minority community in India (the 200 million Muslims in India make it the country with the largest Muslim population outside of countries that are Muslim dominated) and , therefore, not only violate secularist principles but drive in the wedge further between the Muslim minority and the Hindu majority. A citizenship law that is based on religious affiliation destroys the secularist fabric of India, critics argue. But the student protests have to be viewed from a broader perspective.

The trigger point for the recent agitation by students was the CAA and NRC and the first protests took place in or around the campuses of two Muslim-centric universities—Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh and the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. They quickly spread to other universities in India where students empathised with the protesters and organised their rallies, marches and assemblies. However, there have been other build-ups to the actual protests. The Modi regime is viewed by students as being intolerant and non-secularist. In particular, students have been apprehensive about recent developments that have demonstrated discriminatory trends.

The crackdown in Kashmir where leaders were put under house arrest, and communication was blocked after the government repealed special status for the Muslim-majority state is one provocation for the restiveness that has come to prevail on Indian university campuses. The Babri Masjid verdict, which, in essence, gives the go ahead for Hindu activists to gain control over a plot of land where an old mosque stood (it was demolished by Hindu activists in 1992) and build a temple dedicated to the mythological figure, Rama, is yet another point of discord.

India’s students are a significant force. As much as 50% of Indians are below the age of 25 and in recent years many of them feel insecure both economically as well as socially. Unemployment rates are high (although authentic data are difficult to access in India); the economy has been slowing down; consumer demand and, as a consequence, investment by industry is at its nadir. Increasingly, this is making India’s youth disenchanted with the establishment. The recent protests could, thus, be a foretaste of more serious agitations. It is time the Modi regime took note of the stark writing on the wall.