CAN a leopard change its spots? Can the saffron clan led by the RSS and BJP ever give up its core philosophy and agenda that is founded on a pathological hatred of all things Muslim?
During the second tenure of the Manmohan Singh government when an elaborate exercise was launched collectively by the Sangh Parivar, India Inc and the media to catapult Narendra Modi to Delhi, cynics like this one had repeatedly and desperately warned against the coming dangers to the republic, especially to its minorities.
Over the past six years and more, the man from Gujarat and his cabal have gone out of their way to justify those fears of India’s most vulnerable communities, especially its 200 million Muslims. This regime has virtually declared open season on the nation’s largest minority.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, okayed by the Cabinet on Wednesday, is yet another proof of the BJP’s obsession with Muslims and targeting of a hopelessly powerless and dispossessed minority. The contentious bill is being pushed once again by the BJP government despite the fact that it was firmly rejected by the last Parliament, including by the ruling party’s own allies.
What makes the Citizenship Amendment Bill truly bizarre and outrageous is that it specifically excludes Muslims from citizenship, unabashedly declaring that all persecuted people and refugees — Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Parsis — from India’s Muslim neighbourhood are welcome to the country except Muslims.
Not only does this Bill goes against all accepted global principles of democracy, justice and basic rights and the UN Human Rights Charter, it militates against the essential secular and democratic character of Indian Constitution. In short, it strikes at the very idea of India as envisioned by India’s founding fathers promising equality before law to all.
The Bill amending the 1955 Citizenship Act specifically goes against Articles 5, 10, 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution which defines and protects the rights of citizenship of Indians and guarantees equality before law without prejudice to religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
Although Article 11 of the Constitution empowers the Parliament to legislate on citizenship, it is subject to Article 13 which curtails legislation that is inconsistent with or undermines the fundamental rights.
By deliberately and specifically targeting Muslims, this legislation comes in direct collision with the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution as it excludes a community on the basis of its faith.
In the words of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, the Bill is fundamentally unconstitutional because the basic idea of India has been violated. “Those who believe that religion should determine nationhood…that was the idea of Pakistan; they created Pakistan.”
Coming on the heels of its disastrous NRC (National Register of Citizenship) project in Assam that again specifically targeted Muslims, the CAB is so brazenly and openly anti-Muslim that even the government’s traditional apologists in the media are finding it hard to defend.
“Citizenship Amendment Bill is deeply disturbing. To say that only Muslims will not be allowed into India but people of other religions are welcome goes against the idea of India. If persecution is criteria, anyone irrespective of religion should be considered for citizenship,” tweeted Rahul Kanwal, group editor of India Today, not someone you would dismiss as a Modi or a BJP critic.
Columnist Mitali Saran, never known to mince her words, tweeted, “Today the Cabinet cleared the Citizenship Amendment Bill which along with the NRC seeks to legalise citizenship based on religion. If Parliament passes this bill, India ceases to be the constitutional democracy that it has been since Independence.”
While these solitary voices of reason and sanity in the media are heart-warming and reassuring, they are increasingly being drowned out by the cacophony of incredibly xenophobic Indian media that is increasingly controlled by big business friendly to the BJP.
While it remains to be seen if the contentious bill passes the litmus test of the upper house of Parliament where the BJP does not enjoy the required numbers, you never know with this crafty and manipulative regime. It has in the past managed to coerce and rope in unlikeliest of allies and even opposition parties to push through controversial legislations like the one criminalising triple talaq, and most recently, the arbitrary revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, reducing it to a powerless union territory.
It is being argued by legal experts that even if the Bill clears the Parliament, considering its unconstitutional nature, it may not stand in courts.
So why is the BJP pushing for such a flawed legislation at the risk of offending its own allies? The answer is simple and lies in the party’s mindless and historical hostility towards Muslims.
Indeed, every major policy decision of this government stems from and has been dictated by the same perpetual, historical obsession. Whether it is the NRC, triple talaq or the humiliating dismemberment of Kashmir and imprisonment of its people, it is the same mindset that drives and pushes the Parivar and its numerous front organisations to go after one voiceless minority. The way those crazed bulls in Spain are drawn to a red rag in arena!
The much anticipated nationwide NRC that the BJP chief and Home Minister Amit Shah has been threatening to unleash before the 2024 elections, much to the trepidation of Muslims across the country, is again targeted against the same quarry.
The NRC in the Northeastern state of Assam bordering Bangladesh has rendered more than 4 million people stateless, majority of them hopelessly poor, illiterate Muslims, living for generations in India, long before Bangladesh came into existence.
And now the BJP is vowing to replicate the same disastrous fascist model of victimisation on the basis of religion and declaring people stateless like Burma’s Rohingya, or worse, in the rest of the country.
The idea is to keep the communal cauldron perpetually boiling while those at the receiving end remain under siege, cowering in their ghettos and grateful to exist without any benefits and rights. Meanwhile the BJP wins election after election, portraying itself as the only defender and protector of the national interest or the “Hindu interests,” which is but one and the same in the lexicon of BJP’s “new India.”
Sana Iltija Mufti, the outspoken daughter of Jammu and Kashmir’s incarcerated former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, may have sounded bitterly cynical but wasn’t far off the mark in her response to the Citizenship Amendment Bill when she tweeted: “India – no country for Muslims!”
This country may not be a Hindu Rashtra yet, as some of the BJP’s voluble lawmakers have been declaring in the Parliament. But it seems we are getting there — slowly but surely, one step at a time. When BJP lawmakers can chant the name of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, in the Parliament, anything is possible.
In any case, the BJP has enough reasons to push ahead with its divisive agenda, given the perilous state of the economy, deepening unemployment and growing distress of suicidal farmers. In any case, the ordinary Indians do not seem to care about the state of the economy or the nation as long as the BJP keeps delivering on the so-called core agenda, from Kashmir to Ayodhya to the NRC. Idea of India? Gimme a break!
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former editor. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AijazZaka