Unhelpful combativeness: On concerns about CAA

PM Modi must address the concerns about the CAA instead of misinterpreting them

Published - January 14, 2020 12:02 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 , or CAA, 2019, intended only to grant citizenship to a certain class of people, and not to deny citizenship to anyone is factually accurate. But his extrapolation that hence the Act’s critics are misinformed is unfounded and misleading. The concern expressed by many is not that it allows citizenship to people escaping persecution from neighbouring countries; on the contrary the fundamental opposition to the law is that it does so in a discriminatory and inadequate manner. The CAA introduces a religious test in classifying victims of persecution, and granting them citizenship in a secular republic. The one strand of opposition, among indigenous communities in the Northeastern States, is indeed against granting citizenship rights to anyone, regardless of religion. Mr. Modi appeared to be eager to pacify them, as he should be, by reiterating that safeguards are being included in the law to protect the cultural and linguistic rights of indigenous groups. When it comes to addressing the legitimate and well-founded concerns of constitutional experts, the Opposition and several State governments, he tends to turn unhelpfully combative.

If Mr. Modi and his colleagues are genuinely concerned that there is misinformation, they must reach out to the critics rather than disparage them. Instead, party functionaries have latched on to the situation as yet another opportunity for political propaganda, a communal one at that, and launched a marathon monologue. If the CAA’s provisions reflect the BJP’s Hindutva philosophy, the straw man argument further accentuates it. The suggestion is that the CAA’s opponents are opposed to giving refuge to persecuted Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, and Christian minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, which they are not. The CAA’s rationale is that these countries have a state religion, and religious minorities face persecution. But persecution need not be only religious in nature. In Sri Lanka, Tamils have suffered in the hands of the establishment and the dominant Sinhalas. Moreover, Islamic sects, Shias and Ahmadiyyas, and non-believers that have come under attack in these three countries are denied the benefit under the CAA for no logical reason. The explanation that the current CAA is only remedying a grievance left over by Partition is unconvincing. Afghan refugees should not have qualified by that reasoning. In truth, the popular suspicion of the government’s intent draws from its political rhetoric and the link between a National Register of Indian Citizens and the CAA that its functionaries repeatedly seek to forge. Critics have laid out their concerns regarding the CAA; it is the government that needs to explain its position. By repeatedly misinterpreting the concerns, the government betrays an unwillingness to engage on the issue.

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