Opinion: Citizenship Amendment Act - the fear factor

‘Indians have nothing to worry, but if you worry, you may not be Indian’ seems to be the govt.’s argument

December 17, 2019 08:33 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 10:58 am IST - New Delhi

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on December 17, 2019.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on December 17, 2019.

‘Indians have nothing to fear,’ has been the refrain of the proponents of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). On the corollary move to implement a National Register of Citizens (NRC), they keep changing their positions — sometimes they say NRC and CAA have no link at all; other times they say the CAA will protect non-Muslims excluded from the NRC exercise. At times they say it is an internal matter of India, but they also promise to send back the “infiltrators” to places where they allegedly came from.

The argument that Indians have nothing to fear — made repeatedly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah among others — is less a reassurance and more an assertion of the intent of the NRC-CAA. Yes, Indians have nothing to fear. But to be assured of no fear, she has to first PROVE that she is an Indian! The NRC puts onerous requirements that most Indians will find unable to meet, Hindu or Muslim. But non-Muslims have, at least theoretically, a route to citizenship under CAA. Muslims, if they cannot get into NRC — as a large number of them like all other communities, will end up — will have no route to citizenship.

But the statement that ‘Indians have nothing to fear’ — while there are many reasons why they are worried — also suggests that those who are worried, the protesters, are not Indians or less Indians. The very act of protest itself undermines one’s credentials as Indians. Considering the reflex response of the regime that labels every critic of it ‘anti-national,’ this is a new twist. If you are Indian, you have nothing to worry. And inversely, if you are worried, you may not be Indian!

The CAA-NRC compact seeks to redefine who is an Indian and who is liable to be purged. The mainstream of protest — there are other streams also, for instance in Assam — is against the attempt to introduce a religious test for citizenship, which will potentially redefine Indian nationhood.

Another argument frequently thrown in favour of the CAA-NRC move is that the Modi government had won a mandate to do this from the people. It is technically true, but does that make it a democratic decision? Theoretically, it could be argued that a majority of voters could decide to do anything — they could declare India a Hindu nation for instance. There is a better word for it, and that is majoritarianism.

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