CAA, NPR, NRC and a confused NRI
What is happening today in India is worrisome. It is not only the protests, but also the polarization on political grounds, and the noticeable absence of level-headed people in the dialogue make me nervous. It looks like the alt-left and right-wing media and the dark web social media channels help to fan the flames of hostilities by spreading narratives to suit their ideologies on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Thus, the disinformation campaign unifies the many factions as they turn out en masse to protest. Logical explanations from the proponents do not get the power play as expected. And intellectuals are deliberately absent from the debate.
Indians always voice their opinion against the establishment to show their displeasure on many topics du jour. Of course, in any democracy, the right to disagree and protest is guaranteed under freedom of speech. However, destroying public properties, and inconveniencing the general public in the name of protests, does not make any sense.
The passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act triggered protests initially in the state of Assam since they have the most undocumented refugees or infiltrators. Assamese fear that adding millions of citizens to their population roll would be a greater burden to their economy and livelihood. The CAA was the main, as it is interpreted discriminatory and divisive, was the main contention. Then, the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are thrown into the fracas. Then, many smaller and intense protests engulfed cities, towns and university campuses countering CAA, NCR, and NPR initiatives.
On one side I understand the demands of the protesters, but from the rational side, I believe that a democratically elected government, irrespective of the ideologies, has the right to enact the laws for the betterment of the whole nation. Moreover, most of the time, the governing party enact laws adhering to its manifesto.
So, what’s bothering the opposition?
Somehow, people have a feeling that the CAA legislation was rushed through the parliament without providing adequate time for detailed discussions. Furthermore, the government failed to explain and communicate the cause and effect in detail to the public at large. That gap in communication was fully utilized by the opposition and the media to spread misinformation to incite the protests. Main opposition parties and their proxies stand united and encouraged their youth and student wings to join the resistance movement. The opposition is using scare tactics to propagate a myth that the CAA will divide the refugees on a religious basis. This fearmongering is generating panic among the undocumented refugees (infiltrators), and among the Muslim population at large. The commotion and racket are drowning out the voices of reason.
I realized that the main reason for the protests is a lack of understanding of the legislation behind CAA, NPR, and NRC. People believe (as propagated by the opponents) that the legislation could damage the secular nature of the Indian democracy as it ‘discriminates’ undocumented Muslim refugees. In a way, their argument is correct as the CAA provides provisions for Indian citizenship to non-Muslim religious groups while delaying the pathway to citizenship to Muslim stateless people. This, according to some experts, violates the Indian Constitution’s Article 14. Yet, other legal minds argue otherwise.
Opposition to the CAA, the NPR, and the NRC are from various corners of the country, mainly from political parties and their associated entities. Additionally, a few states are not completely signed on to NRC, and NPR, as they fear that the registries are ways to enumerate minorities, especially Muslims, who may not have the documents to prove their citizenship leading to their detention or expulsion.
Do all the protesters have the same agenda?
The major contention is CAA. However, it looks like there are a few other issues interjected into the mix to make the protests stronger and more sustainable. I am hearing regional, religious, and political voices along with illegal immigration, refugee, and citizenship issues in the mix. Diverse voices, agendas of many splinter groups, assorted political motives are rolled into the one major platform and the organizers are hopeful that it would pan out nationally. Thus, the political parties have pushed their students' unions to the forefront of the fight against the Citizenship Amendment Act. I do believe that the students understand the legitimacy of the Act, however, they are supporting the politics of their parties and leaders. Unfortunately, they are paying a price for their actions.
The opposition political parties are motivated to incite fear among the religious Muslim minority thus to keep their voter base united against the ruling party. State governments, especially West Bengal, Bihar, and Kerala are also at the forefront objecting to the Act and associated national registers. It looks like their objective is to appease the Muslim minority, and the illegal immigrant population (refugees settled in West Bengal play a prominent role in the assembly elections) to shore up the voting base. The state leaders support the notion that the data collected will be misused to further the central ruling party's agenda. This stance, again, is counterproductive to the national interest.
From the perspective of an NRI
Initially, like many others, I thought that the central government rammed through a piece of legislation while neglecting the plight of a certain stateless minority group. The lack of detailed discussions, consultations, and buy-ins from the opposition and the public, I think, was a failure from the government’s part.
CAA, NRC, NPR look uncomplicated to me, but for the opponents, they are a step closer to removing the secular nature of the country. The purpose of CAA is to provide relief by granting Indian citizenship to the millions of persecuted minorities from the Muslim majority countries (namely Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) that are confined to refugee camps for decades. However, excluding Muslim refugees from the same countries presents bad optics. That perception is creating divisiveness in the country.
Additionally, I believe that the CAA, NRC, and NPR are tools for the government to help manage and administer various resources such as collect taxes, redistribute wealth, administer healthcare policies, assist in finding planning gaps, measure economic activities, improve educational facilities, etc. for the betterment of the nation. Like the national census, collecting personal data and other information on the citizenry is vital from national interest. The data is helpful in the implementation of government policies, and programs. Governments all over the world depend on such data to administer comprehensive initiatives.
Prime Minister Modi, addressing youths at the Belur Math, reiterated his stance on the CAA and said that the Act was aimed at giving citizenship, not taking it away. Minister Amit Shah, about CAA said, “I want to tell my brothers and sisters from the minority community that none of them can lose their citizenship because the CAA has no provision about taking it away”. According to recent reports, the Home Ministry is requesting no documents or biometric information while updating the NPR.
Despite repeated assurance from the government leaders, the conflicts remain active. Article 14, and 14A are interpreted by pundits and presented to the public in different shades of grey.
And finally, I understand that it is a country's prerogative to restrict migration (legal and illegal) of people into the country. Thus, countries put up barriers to control and stem the entry of foreigners. The reasons for such barriers are many, from limiting the population increase, control the social assistance spending, reduce the burden on the economy, and to accommodate the will of the people. A country's immigration policy dictates what type of people, educated, employable, temporary, permanent, family class, refugees, etc. to allow inside its border.
However, what is bothering me is the politicizing the issue and promoting false-narratives to convince the unsuspected public and the students to take up arms to protest. It looks like everyone is playing the 'vote bank politics'. Peaceful protests for legitimate concerns are indeed a healthy sign in any democracy, but not the destructive ones.
The arguments, pro and against, and the protests will continue for a while. However, the Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of this issue. Already there are many petitions for and against the CAA on file for the court to decide.