In every age, the politics of hate has been the easiest way to gain power and consolidate support. Today, despite predictions to the contrary, there is a resurgence of ethnic, religious and cultural nationalism across the world, including India.
In our post-9/11 world, terrorism and therefore security, has become the watchword of those who worship at the altar of humanity’s most recent deity: the nation-state.
‘Security’ is invoked as the mantra that can justify the erosion of civil liberties and the suspension of fundamental rights. Any opposition to this is immediately deemed to be the work of the kafir of the nation-state — the traitor or the anti-national.
One More Chance to Prove Citizenship
A few nights ago I received a short video on my WhatsApp. My eye fell on the accompanying sentence, ‘Detained at Silchar airport.’ I opened the video to see the police pushing around MP Mamata Thakur, MLA Mahua Moitra, both from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal.
Both politicians had flown to Assam to enquire into the findings of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The 12-second clip showing the bullying of elected representatives not only speaks volumes about the callous disregard the BJP government has for anyone who opposes them, but also indicates that much is amiss with the NRC.
4 million people — 40 lakhs doesn’t quite have the same ring to it — have been dropped from the NRC.
They now have one more chance to prove that they or their ancestors were settled in India before 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh. Debates abound about whether this is the latest assault on Muslims in India, or whether it speaks more about Assamese-Bengali ethnic hostilities regardless of religious affiliation.
The officer-in-charge of the findings has been at pains to explain that this is not final, and that people will get a chance to present documents to stake their claim.
Burden of Proof on the Oppressed
In the first draft, the name of a fiercely anti-Bangladeshi BJP MLA, Shiladitya Dev, was missing, though of course, this was corrected almost immediately. T
The fact that the names of former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad’s relatives, members of the armed forces and police, and even a teacher who helped compile the list — Moinul Haque — are missing, has been met with the usual shrug of the shoulders, because everyone is well acquainted with the efficiency with which our administrative institutions are run.
It is telling that some of the most disenfranchised and poor people in the world are being asked to bear the burden of the anxieties of those who are currently in power. People who have been largely preoccupied with worrying about their next square meal and how they can ensure security for themselves and their families, are expected to be able to provide paperwork that might need to go back two generations.
However, the NRC issue has become yet another victim of the binary, black and white narrative that the BJP is so fond of propagating. It has become a question of those for the nation’s security, and those against it.
The national president of the BJP used the word ghuspeythiay, or infiltrators, to describe most of the people whose names are on the list. This kind of dog-whistle politics has become the norm in India. Of course, given the BJP’s narrative of casting Indian history as the inevitable conflict of Hindus and Muslims, in which the former are perennial victims and the latter aggressive outsiders, the use of the word ‘infiltrator’ would have triggered a number of thoughts in people’s minds.
Some might have recalled the words of the founder of the RSS, KB Hegdewar, about Indian Muslims being yavana or ‘foreign snakes’. Others might have thought of the global war on terror and images of black-clad militants sneaking into India to wreak havoc.
Yet others might have imagined menacing madrasas conspiring to destabilise India.
The point is that the BJP’s forthcoming elections will be largely predicated using the idea of the ‘Muslim menace’ to polarise society. The reality is that the debates surrounding the NRC are actually symptomatic of a much wider problem across the world.
More Bigotry — Close to Home
Not far from Assam, in South-West China, almost 1 million Muslims have been detained in re-education camps. Many of these people are Uyghur, a Turkic ethnic group. Disturbing reports have emerged of Muslims being forced to drink alcohol, eat pork and disavow belief in their religion, while affirming the superiority of ‘mainstream’ Han Chinese culture.
A US Commission has called this ‘the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.’
Of course, the near silence of the governments of various Middle Eastern countries and Pakistan is proof that no matter how much chest thumping there might be about their claims to the mantle of ‘Muslim leadership’, ultimately geo-strategic interests override all other concerns.
Public outrage in Turkey, fueled by sympathies for fellow Muslims, but more so driven by pan-Turkic sentiments, has been assuaged by Erdogan, who in the past spoke ‘of a kind of genocide in China.’ More recently, his tone has been marked by circumspection, balancing rhetorical support for the Uyghurs and preserving political and economic ties with China.
The Chinese government’s very own ghar-wapsi camps are perhaps an indicator of what will happen to the many of the 4 million people in India who are unable to prove their citizenship, since Bangladesh has declared that it is not going to allow people to ‘return’ there. In fact, the NRC cannot be discussed without taking into account the pending amendments to the Citizenship Bill in 2016.
This bill is controversial because it has stated that ‘minority communities, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan’ would be allowed to apply for Indian citizenship, even if they are not fleeing persecution.
In other words, the amendments imply that India is the ‘natural home’ for these specific communities.
The fact that Muslims, some of whom are persecuted by fellow Muslims because of their sectarian affiliation, are conspicuous in their absence, is proof that the BJP is resolute in entrenching the view that Muslims are outsiders in India, unless they conform to the BJP’s idea of who an an Indian is.
Indications of what this might eventually translate into in India are possible by analysing recent events in Israel.
Similarities Between Zionism & Hindutva
Israel recently enacted a hugely controversial set of legal changes that peg the nation-state to Jewish identity and enshrine national settlement as a duty of the Israeli government. Although individual rights will still be protected by various laws, the state draws an equivalence between being Israeli and Jewish. Therefore, Arab minorities, both Christian and Muslim, the Druze, and others feel disenfranchised.
One of the ironies of history is that victims often become oppressors.
So it is remarkable that memories of the 1935 Nuremburg Laws in Nazi Germany, that stripped Jews of their citizenship, seem to elude public memory.
Today, many aspects of Zionism are similar to Hindutva or the Hindu nationalism espoused by the BJP and RSS, wherein the country, and indeed the nation, is sacralised — and is seen as the rightful and natural abode of just one particular community. As William F Meinecke Jr, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, writes, “Today, denial of citizenship has become a weapon…[and] laws restricting certain groups from citizenship or government services can be a warning sign of more extreme measures to come.”
In India, the hijacking of the NRC by the BJP, is just another example of the manner in which they hope to consolidate votes and power, and also offers a glimpse into what awaits the country.
(Ali Khan Mahmudabad is an Indian historian, political scientist, poet, writer, and assistant professor in the dual fields of history and political science at Ashoka University. He tweets @Mahmudabad. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)