Who Gains Most From CAA: Modi Govt or Oppn? Here’s a Reality Check

CAA’s potential to harm the BJP would depend greatly on how Opposition parties are able to use it.

Updated
Politics
7 min read
Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has been most effective in using anti-CAA protests for its benefit.
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As many as three top Opposition politicians - Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal - hailed the BJP’s defeat in Jharkhand as a rejection of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Many have also called the widespread protests against the Act as the “beginning of the end of Narendra Modi”.

But is this actually the case?

For a moment, let us set aside the discussion on the merits or de-merits of the Act and look, empirically, at one question: Who gains from the entire CAA-NRC row – the Narendra Modi government or the Opposition?

Let’s break this down into different components. First, the Jharkhand results.

Did BJP Lose Jharkhand Because of CAA?

Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on 9 December. Two phases of the Jharkhand elections had been completed by the time and three phases took place after that.

It must be remembered that Home Minister Amit Shah made CAA a part of his campaign in Jharkhand.

In the last three phases, BJP won 17 seats, down 5 from the 22 it won in 2014. Among the seats that voted in the first two phases, BJP’s tally reduced from 17 to 8.

Therefore, BJP lost ground both before and after the Citizenship Amendment Bill came into the picture. But its quantum of loss was greater in the phases that voted before the passage of the Bill.

What is clear is that the amended citizenship law wasn’t a game-changer for either the BJP or the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance.

“There is very little evidence to indicate that CAA had an impact on the Jharkhand result.”
Suhas Palshikar, Sanjay Kumar and Sandeep Shastri in The Indian Express. 

“The CAA and NRC were rarely mentioned by respondents as a factor that influenced the way they voted. This, despite reports that top BJP leaders did mention this issue in their campaign rhetoric with the Prime Minister defending CAA as ‘1,000 percent correct’ they wrote in their article based on Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey data

According to the survey, less than 1 percent respondents cited CAA and NRC as the single-most important issue for them while voting. An overwhelming majority cited factors like unemployment, rising prices, development and governance as the main issues that determined their vote.

Much of the data indicates that the Jharkhand defeat was largely due to the unpopularity of the Raghubar Das-led government in the state.

However, there has been a fall in PM Modi’s popularity as compared to during the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year.

The survey states that in Jharkhand, the Modi government’s Net Satisfaction rating (that is, the percentage of people satisfied minus the percentage of people dissatisfied with the government) has gone down from 64 points in the 2014 Assembly polls and 53 points in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, to zero in the 2019 Assembly polls.

This means that the number of dissatisfied people in Jharkhand was equal to the ones satisfied.

However, judging by the issues that people listed as important, this fall in popularity has largely been due to economic factors, and not because of issues like CAA-NRC.

What is crucial is that the abrogation of Article 370, the Ayodhya verdict and the CAA failed to stop the slide in Modi’s popularity in Jharkhand.

Does the Public Support or Oppose CAA?

Thus far, there has only been one proper survey recording public opinion about the CAA and NRC – by CVoter. The survey was conducted over a space of three days – 17-19 December – with a sample size of 3,000.

62 percent respondents across the country said they supported the CAA while 37 percent said they opposed it. However, there are several nuances that are vital:

  • There is a clear communal polarisation on the issue. Two in three Hindus support the CAA while a similar proportion of Muslims are opposed to it. The view on NRC is more or less similar.
  • Opposition to CAA is highest in Assam where 68 percent respondents said they are against it.
  • In the rest of the Northeast, the number of people in support of and opposed to CAA are almost equal.
  • Even outside the Northeast, there are major regional variations. The Net Support for the CAA (people supporting it minus people opposed to it) is the highest in North India at 36.5 points, followed by the West at 29 points. In the South, Net Support is lower, at 20 points, while it is lowest in East India at less than 15 points.
  • In South India and Assam and among Muslims, a larger proportion of respondents supported the Opposition’s viewpoint over that of the government. Support for the government’s position was highest in the North, the West and among Hindus.
  • The proportion of non-Muslim minorities opposed to the government’s position was slightly higher than those in support. This despite the fact that the CAA benefits refugees belonging to these communities as well.

Some Support CAA Despite Finding It Unconstitutional

One key finding in the survey is that support for CAA is despite the fact that a large chunk of people said that it goes against the Constitution and will place a financial burden on India.

According to the survey, 47.4 percent respondents across India said that the Constitution has been violated, while 47.1 percent said that there has been no such violation. The proportion of people who find it unconstitutional is highest in Assam and in Eastern states like West Bengal and Odisha, besides among Muslims and other religious minorities.

However, the proportion of those who said there is nothing unconstitutional is highest among Hindus in general and in Northern and in Western India. However, the proportion of those who said it is not unconstitutional even among these sections is much lower than those who support the law.

43.5 percent respondents in North India said that CAA is unconstitutional but only 31.2 percent are opposed to it. This means that a sizable chunk of people are supporting CAA despite considering it against the Constitution.

For instance, 43.5 percent respondents in North India said that CAA is unconstitutional but only 31.2 percent are opposed to it. This means that a sizable chunk of people are supporting CAA despite considering it against the Constitution.

The same pattern could be seen when people were asked if the entry of refugees due to CAA will increase India’s population and burden the economy. 64 percent respondents across India said that CAA will financially strain the country, which is roughly the same as the proportion of people supporting the CAA. This means that many people are supporting CAA despite deeming it a burden.

Not surprisingly, people in Assam and in other Eastern states were most inclined to consider CAA an economic burden.

Let’s come back, briefly, to people supporting CAA despite finding it unconstitutional or an economic burden. This might be due to three reasons:

  • First, it could be due to greater humanitarian interests of supporting refugees
  • Second, it may be the result of broader support for the Modi government and the sentiment that even if it is unconstitutional or a burden, whatever the government has done is right. This seems the most likely possibility.
  • Third, it may be due to people buying into the desire to have a law that excludes Muslims

Can Protests Help the Opposition?

The Jharkhand results and the CVoter survey both seem to indicate that as of now, the CAA issue and the protests may not have the same debilitating effect that the Anna Hazare movement had on the UPA.

The CVoter survey and ground reports do indicate that a majority of Hindu are in support of the government on the CAA.

Of course, even the Lokpal/Anna movement wouldn’t have harmed the UPA to this extent had it not been for the rising prices at that time. But that’s a separate discussion.

But both the CVoter survey and ground reports do indicate that a majority of Hindus, particularly in the North and in the West are in support of the government on the CAA or, at the very least, not actively opposing the government.

However, what the anti-CAA protests have done is to energise the anti-BJP base, a bit like the Anna Hazare movement energised the anti-Congress base, 2011 onwards.

For instance, the anti-CAA/NRC protests have transformed Muslims from mere anti-BJP voters to the driving force of anti-BJP politics in India.

The anti-CAA protests have transformed Muslims from mere anti-BJP voters to the driving force of anti-BJP politics in India.

So now, any party that wants to defeat the BJP can tap into this force by joining the anti-CAA/NRC protests. This is why, barely a few days after announcing his entry into mainstream politics, Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad decided to protest against CAA at Muslim-dominated Jama Masjid, and not in a Dalit-dominated area.

Two parties are harnessing the potential of anti-CAA/NRC protests most effectively.

First is the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee has been leading the protests against CAA-NRC from the front. The slogan “We are all citizens” can be seen all across Bengal.

Besides consolidating its hold over Muslims – who form about one fourth of Bengal’s population – the TMC has also tapped into the fear of poorer Bengali Hindu voters who fear harassment in the eventuality of a nation-wide NRC. Then, of course, there is the fear of the economic cost that may come with a possible influx of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees.

The success of TMC’s strident anti-NRC, anti-CAA stance can be seen in the West Bengal BJP pussy-footing on the issue. Its state unit Chief Dilip Ghosh has spoken against NRC while another leader Chandra Kumar Bose has said that CAA shouldn’t have excluded Muslims. This is at variance with the party’s stand nationally.

The success of TMC’s strident anti-NRC, anti-CAA stance can be seen in the West Bengal BJP pussy-footing on the issue. Its state unit Chief Dilip Ghosh has spoken against NRC.

The second party that has tapped into this well is the DMK in Tamil Nadu. MK Stalin’s party has carried out protests combining two separate narratives: the anger at the CAA excluding Muslims and Lankan Tamil refugees.

Other secular parties like the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have been supporting the protests in different ways but there are limits to how much the two parties have been able to convince non-Muslims to protest against CAA. Largely, their efforts have only worked to keep Muslims on their side.

In Assam, however, it appears that the Congress is trying to channelise the anti-CAA sentiment to its benefit. This is evident in the fact that the first major anti-CAA protest Rahul Gandhi has chosen to attend is in Assam on 28 December.

Therefore, the CAA’s potential to harm the BJP would greatly depend on how Opposition parties are able to utilise it.

But it is quite clear that in Northern and in Western India, CAA is unlikely to lead to a major shift of voters from the BJP to the Opposition. For that, economic issues like unemployment, price rise would be more useful.

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