CAA and NRC: Reading between the lines and the silence of the government
The CAA is certainly good for the 30,000 odd refugees whose citizenship otherwise would get delayed by a few more years. However, it discriminates based on religion, which will destroy the communal fabric of our country.
The central government and its ideological followers attempted to club together CAA, NPR, and NRC in chronological order. Since it backfired, the government and its self-declared spokespersons are now silent on NRC, as though they were never enthusiastic about the process. At the same time, they are rigorously campaigning to champion the CAA while discreetly pushing for NPR. Clearly, the ruling dispensation in India is acting too clever by half.
Today, supporters of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are more likely batting for CAA, not merely because it would provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees, but in the hope of implementing NRC subsequently. As per government sources, the number of people who have taken refuge in India before 31st December 2014 is 31,313 (people excluded from NRC in Assam not included). Even without CAA, in another 5 to 6 years, all of them are going to be eligible for Indian citizenship through the already existing mechanism of naturalization. With CAA in effect, all of them should get citizenship in the current calendar year.
In this case, won’t the clauses in CAA that are related to refugees from the three neighbouring countries be defunct from 1st January 2021, unless the government intends to amend it further to tune it to suit the implementation of NPR and NRC across the country? Those who are supporting CAA but opposing NRC – such as Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik – are far too seasoned as politicians to ignore the possible trap. The CAA is certainly good for the 30,000 odd refugees whose citizenship otherwise would get delayed by a few more years. However, it discriminates based on religion, which will destroy the communal fabric of our country.
Those who are on the streets against the government’s move view the CAA as a first step towards putting a certain category of people in detention centres. The intermediate steps between the operationalization of CAA and detention centres would obviously be NPR and NRC. The category of people who are likely to be detained would most likely be from the Muslim community. It is assumed that the rest who would not find a place in the final NRC could apply for citizenship through CAA. But can they? Indeed, only if they prove that they migrated either from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan before 31st December 2014, and accordingly registered themselves with government authorities before this date. It means there is no escape route even for non-Muslims if they fail to get a place in the final NRC.
There is no clarity on what would happen to the people who would be unable to get listed in the NRC, that is if the exercise takes place at all. In the absence of any clarity, the fear of detention centres is not unrealistic for Muslims, tribal, and poor. It would also be noteworthy to watch whether non-Muslims excluded from NRC in Assam are eligible to apply for citizenship through CAA. There could be a technical hitch when all the people excluded from the NRC attempt to prove that they have been citizens of India since birth or for a long time. It means that they are not registered with government authorities as refugees from Bangladesh or any other country. NRC and CAA together have created such complexities in the explosive fields of Assam. Certainly, the probable impact of NRC with CAA (that further could be amended) across the country has not been assessed by the central government.
In this context, the central government needs to state in no uncertain terms that there are no plans or even intentions of carrying out NRC outside Assam. To confirm this, the central government should also move an amendment in relevant central acts to remove any mention of NRC outside Assam. Prime Minister Modi merely stating once that there were no official discussions on NRC is not sufficient. The statement seemed to have been given only to signal to the government’s official and unofficial spokespersons to remain silent on NRC for the time being. This is an indication that the government is in no mood to retreat, never mind conceding defeat to the protesters across the country. It is only tactically bucking the issue in the current scenario of outrage.
This paints the government in a poor light as it takes no initiatives to engage the citizenry of the country on vital issues. However, the government and its supporters take pride in its leaders’ abilities to make decisions and implement them. The consequences and results of the government’s actions are not even secondary for them, as if they do not matter at all; it is as though only political intents are important to them. The political intent of CAA is to scare Muslims with NRC in the future, which would be like a hanging sword over the heads of millions of people forever. Anyone defending CAA without mentioning NRC is only trying to eyewash the people.
At this time, it would be generous on the part of the government to release the data of how many migrants or refugees from the concerned three countries have been given citizenship of India since 1950 onwards, and how many of them were Muslims and non-Muslims. In all possibility, Muslims were comparatively very few compared to non-Muslims. Irrespective of these numbers, nobody opposed providing citizenship to non-Muslims migrating from neighbouring countries. Therefore, the opposition to CAA today is not at all on the issue of providing speedy citizenship to non-Muslims. Yet, the BJP and the government’s leadership is desperately creating a picture as if those protesting against CAA are opposing the settlement of Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh in India.
In fact, Indian society and the government in the immediate aftermath of partition had set an example before the world with respect to welcoming and providing citizenship to migrant non-Muslims in the country. It is ironic that the Congress party and its leader, the first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, have not even been acknowledged for the momentous task of settling Hindu refugees successfully after the partition. They left no stone unturned to make life comfortable for refugees from Pakistan. The result is obvious for everyone to see and pass judgment. It is much more glaring when we compare it with the condition of Muslims who chose to migrate to newly created Pakistan in 1947. The difference in the conditions of partition’s refugees in India and Pakistan is because of, amongst many other things, these countries’ cultural inclusivity and exclusivity respectively. Unlike Pakistan, one of the important foundations of India is an inclusive constitution and polity. The CAA in its present form and intent goes against the principles of inclusivity, reason, and rationality, and would push India towards exclusivity, unreason, and irrationality.