Though the COVID-19 pandemic overtook the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act movement last year, India was still in danger of having an undemocratic and biased citizenship regime and there was no room for complacency, Director, The Hindu Group of Publications, and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram said on Saturday.
Addressing an online event organised by a diaspora group from Washington D.C., Mr. Ram spoke about “Citizenship, the Constitution and Muslims in the time of Hindutva”.
He said though the pandemic had trumped the issue of citizenship, there was “no room for complacency”.
“It’s very clear we are in danger of having a citizenship regime that is arbitrary, undemocratic, biased and surveillance oriented,” he said.
Constituent Assembly debates
Mr. Ram said there had been arguments made in the Constituent Assembly in favour of according citizenship on the basis of religion, but they were put down by leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer. Today, he said, some of the same themes had cropped up.
He added that the anti-CAA protests and the ongoing farmers’ agitation had “shown the limits of power of those who seek to seize more” in a time of crisis like the pandemic.
Speaking about the Muslim population, which is estimated to be 207 million or 14.6% of the total population in 2021, he said: “It’s not as if the Muslim population as a whole is threatened. There are many States where Muslims and Hindus, and people belonging to other religious groups live in perfect harmony. But the Hindutva project is to divide and target the so-called other.”
He said the political project of Hindutva had been around for a long time. “They have bided their time. They’ve played the long game,” he said.
On the citizenship issue, he said, “At the heart is the question whether Hindu communal majoritarianism — the concept of Hindutva put into practice — will be allowed to trump the secular character of the Constitution.”
Collective political failure
He said political parties, including the Congress, could not escape accountability as well. For instance, they could not explain why the exercise of compiling a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was conducted.
The proposed all-India NRC and National Population Register (NPR), coupled with the CAA, which gives a path to citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Parsis and Jains from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, while leaving out Muslim refugees, posed a direct challenge to India’s secular polity and political stability, he said.
While there has been no timeline for the NRC exercise, the NPR was supposed to have started in 2020 but was pushed back due to the pandemic.