Nobel Winner Ramakrishnan Slams Amit Shah’s Argument, Condemns CAB

Ramakrishnan termed one of Home Minister Amit Shah’s arguments in defence of the bill as “complete nonsense”.

Updated
Politics
4 min read

Video editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan

In a hard-hitting interview to The Quint, Indian-origin Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has slammed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), which was passed by Parliament late on Wednesday, 11 December.

Ramakrishnan, who had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, described the CAB as a dangerous piece of legislation that goes against the Constitution, and serves to “distract from the very hard task of making progress on education, technology and general economic advancement.”

“Now, people say that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill doesn’t affect Muslims who are already in India and are Indian citizens. But that’s not the point. The point is that it makes those 200 million Muslims feel as if somehow their religion is not as valid or as Indian as the others. That’s not a good recipe for harmony. India should not be competing with Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

Ramakrishnan, who was born and brought up in India, moved abroad to pursue his academic interests and currently holds dual nationality of the US and UK. Because he is no longer an Indian citizen, he felt it was appropriate that he not sign the recent petition against CAB supported by over a thousand Indian scientists and scholars.

However, that has not prevented him from speaking up against the legislation, one that he feels goes against India’s long-held principles of secularism.

The following are excerpts from Ramakrishnan’s interview with The Quint.

‘Amit Shah Saying Muslims Can’t Be Persecuted in Pak is Complete Nonsense’

Addressing the Lok Sabha on 9 December, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “Are you saying that there can be atrocities against Muslims in Pakistan? Can there be atrocities against Muslims in Bangladesh? That can never happen!” Do you think that is a fair statement by the Indian government?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: That’s complete nonsense. Let me give you an example from the field of science.

Abdus Salam was a great theoretical physicist and he won the Nobel Prize for his work. People desecrated his grave in Pakistan because he was an Ahmadiyya and thus considered by some people to not be a proper Muslim.

There are all sorts of people being persecuted. I think instead of making a blanket exclusion or inclusion, the government should decide these things on a case-by-case basis.

Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam’s gravestone had been defaced to remove the word ‘Muslim’.
Pakistani scientist Abdus Salam’s gravestone had been defaced to remove the word ‘Muslim’.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

‘CAB is Dangerous, and a Distraction From Hard Task of Making Real Progress’

What is the basis for your opposition to this Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: One of the things that India ought to be most proud of is that it has an extremely enlightened Constitution. Considering that it was written around 1950, it is an amazingly progressive document, and in that sense, it differs from many of the neighbours India has. It’s an enlightened, liberal democracy that is tolerant to everybody in the country.

Now, what this Citizenship (Amendment) Bill does is go against the spirit of the Constitution. It specifies requirements for citizenship by religion, and very deliberately excludes one religion while allowing others.

If India is going to get bogged down in these religious and communal squabbles, that is going to distract from the very hard task of making progress with education, technology and in making general economic advancement. It just sends a bad signal. I think it’s bad for the country.

‘India is Now a Majoritarian State’

Would you say that India has taken a turn for the worse by passing this legislation?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I think India now is what we would call a majoritarian state, in which a majority imposes its will regardless of the feelings of the minority. You could say that it is a kind of democracy, but it’s not an ideal democracy.

An ideal democracy has a tolerance for minorities, for opposing views. That was the beauty of India. Even though it was a very poor country, it was a very tolerant country. It didn’t want to ride roughshod over minorities. It was a country where everybody could feel that they had some stake in it.

Now, if you alienate one-fifth or one-sixth of the population, those people are not going to feel that they have a stake in India. That is actually quite a dangerous situation for a country to be in.

Ramakrishnan is Not an Indian Citizen Himself, So Why Oppose CAB?

Since you are currently a dual American-UK national and not an Indian citizen, does it mean that you shouldn’t be speaking up against a law in India?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Normally, I don’t interfere or even express an opinion about Indian political matters. When I was told that a large group of Indian scientists and other academics had signed a petition against this Bill, I did not want to sign that petition because I am not an Indian citizen. But what I am is a person who was born and grew up in India.

I was educated in India until the age of 19, all the way till my undergraduate degree at the MS University of Baroda. I was a recipient of a national science talent scholarship by the Government of India. So, I’m very grateful to India.

It is true that as someone who left India a long time ago and has not been an Indian citizen for a very long time, I don’t have a local standing. However, it is the country I am from, and so I have a deep affection for India and I want India to do well.

I believe that India has so many problems of poverty, water, energy, the economy, that it is best if Indians all come and work together. If large sections of the country feel alienated and don’t feel invested in the country, that is not as good for India to make progress.

So, I think the ideals of the Constitution really were good ideals for the country to have.

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