Which is superior – law or justice? To thoughtful minds, the answer is obvious. Law must protect and promote justice. And justice can never be discriminatory. Law is the means, justice the end. The means, as Mahatma Gandhi insistently and repeatedly affirmed, must always be subservient to good ends.
But, very often, those who enact laws have selective regard for justice. They want to use the coercive power of a law to pursue an end that has little to do with justice. And when that happens, they invariably face unintended and unexpected consequences. The first consequence is resistance from the people — or at any rate from a section of the people who view it as lacking in fairness. But costlier consequences follow if the law that is facing resistance truly lacks fairness, and has a hidden and unjust agenda. Injustice is like a life-threatening disease. It either yields to cure, or it kills.
Nobody in Modi Govt Has Explained Why Nationwide NRC Is Needed
This is what Narendra Modi’s government has encountered after enacting the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament. True, both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed the bill with comfortable majorities. But will it be acceptable to a majority of the ‘Jan Sabha’ – the House of Electors – as against the houses of the elected, in which there are many ways to mobilise a majority? Will it also be acceptable to the ‘Nyaya Sabha’ – the judiciary?
The Supreme Court will of course have to demonstrate its independence and scrutinise whether the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) is in accordance with the Indian Constitution.
But a growing section of Indian society has already begun protesting against it on a scale not witnessed in many decades. And, let’s remember, this is just the beginning. The protests are bound to grow as the Modi government starts to give effect to its resolve to prepare the National Register of Citizens (NRC), after implementing the CAA (which involves granting citizenship to ‘religiously persecuted’ non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh). Nobody in the government has so far explained why a nationwide NRC is needed, especially since a similar exercise in Assam proved to be both communally polarising and spectacularly futile.
Citizenship Amendment Act: Masquerading ‘Discrimination’ as ‘Justice’?
There would have been absolutely no protest anywhere in the country had the law provided for giving citizenship to anyone persecuted on the grounds of religion, irrespective of the person’s religious affiliation, and coming from all the countries in India’s neighbourhood and not just the three that have Muslim-majority populations. Such an impartial law would have been in alignment with the demands of justice, and also with India’s age-old ethos of welcoming those uprooted from their native lands due to bigotry-induced violence.
But the ruling party’s guiding motive in enacting the law was not justice – it was discrimination masquerading as justice.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, and the larger ideological family or the Sangh Parivar to which it belongs, is clearly guided by a hidden agenda, which has a short-term and a long-term goal. Its short-term goal is to divide the Indian society on Hindu vs Muslim lines, thereby expand and consolidate its Hindu vote bank, and thus ensure its victory for the third time in a row in the next parliamentary election. The long-term goal is less hidden. Many leading lights of the Sangh Parivar have already spoken about it, especially after the BJP under Modi’s leadership won majority mandates in 2014 and 2019. And that goal is to erase India’s secular character and transform India into a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. CAA 2019 must be seen as one of the initial means to secure the Hindutva Parivar’s short-term as well as long-term ends.
Indian Muslims Have Risen & How
Four (perhaps) unexpected consequences have followed its enactment in Parliament, and the President’s predictably quick assent to it. The first consequence is that Indian Muslims have been stirred into action for the first time since the Modi government came into being five and a half years ago.
The significance of this development must not be ignored.
The 20-crore Muslim community in India is by no means a minority. Its demographic size is bigger than the populations of all but seven countries in the world. It had not taken to street protests when innocent Muslims were killed in a series of mob lynching incidents in the past few years. There were also no protests when the Supreme Court delivered its final verdict in the Ayodhya case recently. Their silent acceptance of the judgment was in stark contrast with the huge demonstrations organised by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the mandir vs masjid dispute had begun to redefine national politics. But after CAB became law, Indian Muslims have undeniably decided to make their voice heard.
No party can govern India with any degree of social or political stability if a large section of its society is alienated, disempowered and legally made to feel that India belongs more to Hindus and Hinduism than to Muslims and Islam.
Ruling Party’s Communal Comments On CAA
Secondly, the BJP did not expect Hindus to join in such visibly large numbers in a protest that the party and the government thought was triggered by a ‘Muslim issue’ and hence concerned Muslims alone. The prime minister himself made a blatant attempt to paint it as a ‘Muslim protest’. In a statement most unbecoming of an Indian PM, he said at an election rally in Jharkhand – “Congress and their allies are creating a ruckus. They are doing arson because they did not get their way. Those who are creating violence can be identified by their clothes itself.”
This was not the first time Modi was making a communal statement during an election campaign. In 2017, after he had become PM, he alleged that Pakistan had hatched a conspiracy (with the involvement of the likes of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and former Vice President Dr Hamid Ansari) to influence the assembly elections in Gujarat. When this met with strong protests in Parliament, the late Arun Jaitley had to tender what amounted to a half-apology in the Rajya Sabha to quell the row. PM Modi again resorted to a communally polarising campaign in the 2019 parliamentary elections, but was saved by a pliant Chief Election Commissioner.
Anti-Muslim Slurs, Identification of Muslims As ‘Violent’
Nevertheless, what Modi has said in the wake of the protests against CAA is of an altogether different, and egregious, kind. He has resorted to a targeted identification of the Muslim community as ‘violent’. What he said by way of an insinuation, his finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, has said more explicitly.
According to her, ‘jihadists, Maoists and separatists’ are behind the agitation against the new law.
These anti-Muslim slurs by the PM, his ministerial colleagues and numerous supporters of the Modi government are combated by the huge number of Hindus and others who have joined the agitation all over the country. This breadth and depth of street-level Hindu-Muslim unity, not seen in India in a long time, augurs well for the protection of our Constitution and India’s age-old culture of secularism.
Resurgence of Student Activism
The third major consequence of the protests against CAA has been equally new and heartening. It is the sudden resurgence in student activism. The last time India had witnessed student protests on such a scale was in the run-up to the declaration of the Emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
Under the inspiring leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, students in Gujarat and Bihar organised large-scale agitations against the corruption and misrule of the Congress. Indeed, these student movements produced many activists who later became prominent national leaders – Arun Jaitley, Govindacharya, Nitish Kumar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav, to name a few. Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat were also products of student activism of that era, although they belonged to the non-JP (communist) stream.
It is highly significant that university campuses have become the hubs of anti-CAA protests. Moreover, student protests are by no means limited to Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, even though the police have selectively targeted these ‘Muslim’ universities for brutal suppression.
Indeed, the police action against students at Jamia and AMU has met with spirited protests from non-Muslim students in universities and elite institutes across the country – IITs, IIMs, IISc, TISS, Mumbai University, Pune University and many more.
As the protests spread, its organisers and leaders have an inescapable responsibility to keep them peaceful and nonviolent. Even a morally just cause, such as resistance to CAA and NRC, would be gravely weakened if the path of nonviolence is abandoned.
Anti-CAA: States Up in Arms Against Centre
Lastly, for the first time in independent India’s political history, several chief ministers have openly declared that they would not implement CAA and NRC in their states. Never have we seen such potential confrontation between the Centre and states, which poses a severe challenge to India’s ‘federal’ character. The defiant stand of state governments may not stand the test of Constitutional correctness, but will it not bode ill for political stability in India?
I may yet be wrong in believing that the prime minister, Home Minister Amit Shah and leaders of the Sangh Parivar did not expect these consequences. It might well be argued that no organisation guided by a long-term agenda fails to take into account all the likely effects of its actions. If such is the case, India should expect the unleashing of all those measures the ruling establishment thinks are necessary to put down the protests, howsoever undemocratic and repressive the means may be to achieve its short-term and long-term ends — winning 2024, and making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
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(The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is founder of the ‘Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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