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CAA, NRC and the idea of India

Forcing an idea down people's throats can only lead to contagious rebellion, an irrational use of force by the state and, ultimately, chaos.

Before we come to the intentions behind the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, or CAA, let's, for a moment, talk about the inconsistencies.

At its heart is the issue of religious persecution in our neighbourhood.

Define persecution

The CAA applies to three countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It excludes Muslims, while including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians. It assumes that Muslims are not persecuted in other countries, which is not true. What about the Rohingyas and the Ahmadis? Even if one sees the CAA as protecting umbrella Hindus - anyone who is not Muslim - the question arises: Why then leave out Tamil Hindu immigrants from Sri Lanka? The first thing that comes to mind is: Where are these Hindus being persecuted, what is the nature of this persecution and what is the total number of affected people? There is no clarity about this.

If Hindus were being persecuted to warrant urgent action like the CAA, why wasn't this taken up at the highest level with our neighbouring countries earlier? The Bangladesh foreign minister, for instance, has denied any such persecution. Also, religious persecution is only one kind of persecution, what about giving shelter to those who are fleeing other kinds of persecution?

Critics of the CAA had earlier offered vote-bank politics as the reason why the Central government was hurrying it through in Assam. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise backfired, as millions of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh were left out of it. The CAA was meant to bring them back into the fold. As it happened, the Hindus in Assam rose in rebellion. In Tripura, the resentment against Bengali Hindus flared up yet again.

Which brings us to the real intention of the CAA and the linked proposal to extend the NRC to the rest of the country. The good thing about the Hindu Right is that there is nothing murky about it. Going back a 100 years, the stated beliefs haven't changed and are mentioned in every election manifesto. It's being executed now, on the double.

In this context, Union home minister Amit Shah is actually trying to expand the notion of Hindus and Hinduism. Hindutva sees all Hindus as belonging to one global joint family. We are part of a religious sisterhood and brotherhood, a unified community of Hindus spanning continents. The CAA allows all Hindus to have a sense of motherland which will always welcome them, like Israel and Jews.

Hindutva 'glue'

Except, like Assam shows us, this sense of community is a fantasy, just like Hindutva's ethno-nationalism borrowed from the white man of another time, is also a fantasy. When you try and impose this fantasy on Hindus, they erupt in protest. As one protester in Guwahati said on a TV channel: "I don't care if they are Hindus, Muslim or bhagwan himself. All outsiders stay out! Assamese identity is paramount." Shah never thought that Hindus would reject Hindus. A complex regional parochialism comes in direct conflict with the parochialism of Hindu nationalism. To some extent this is also what happened with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The imagined glue that Hindutva promises doesn't work on the ground.

The ruling party can manage headlines but managing people is a different order altogether. The original Constitution had a 'live and let live' sensibility. It didn't colour in the picture of India. The pluralism of Hinduism is an organic fact; Hindutva is an artificial heuristic device. When you try and convert fantasy into fact it upsets the fine balance that is India. To recast a country like India in the saffron light requires upsetting the equilibrium. This cannot be done without force. We have seen this in Jawaharlal Nehru University, in Jamia Millia Islamia, in Kashmir and in Assam.

Rashtra vs nation

People are not happy. All were functional and working. Now, they have all ground to a halt. What was the need to do so? Sending in the Army, clamping curfew, ordering lathi charges and shutting down the Internet is not a sign of success. The nationwide NRC promises to upset the equilibrium of daily lives further. Can we afford its costs, both economic and social? There are already calls for civil disobedience coming from various quarters. If India's Muslims, liberal Hindus and certain states refuse to participate in the NRC, it will effectively become a lame duck exercise. A reasonably functional India will give way to a dysfunctional Hindu Rashtra.

As Assam shows, one patch of earth can have an incredibly complex history. From a marshland where rhinos roamed a 150 years ago, its politics is now crisscrossed by a million bloodlines. Hindutva tries to erase these differences of jaati and tribe and aspires to a community of Hindus that is defined in fundamentally oppositional terms vis-à-vis Islam. The ideology is in a state of stasis, tied to ideas of nationhood from another time and place. There is room for political Hindu resurgence, but one that is positive, genuinely inclusive, and which also respects the simple living fact that there are, even among Hindus, differences that cannot be wished away. Forcing an idea down people's throats can only lead to contagious rebellion, an irrational use of force by the state and, ultimately, chaos.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: How Citizenship Amendment Bill has brought India to its Nürnberger moment

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