Instead of protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Indian Muslims should take Home Minister Amit Shah at his word. This is even more imperative in the light of the protests and the police action over the past two days in Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, which portray predominantly Muslim educational institutions in an unfavourable light. During the debate on the CAA in Parliament, Mr. Shah said, “The Bill has no provision to snatch citizenship from anyone but to grant citizenship to the refugees. There is no need for Indian Muslims to live in fear.” Indian Muslims should hold his feet to the fire as far as this assurance is concerned. Their interests can be better served by a different strategy for several reasons.
A brake on implementation?
First, there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will determine that the CAA is ultra vires of the Constitution because, prima facie , it discriminates on the basis of religion for the grant of citizenship. While recently the apex court has appeared disinclined to challenge the government’s decisions, in this case the violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution appears to be so obvious that the court is unlikely to endorse the CAA without asking for major changes.
Second, the severe protests in the Northeast are likely to put a brake on the immediate implementation of the Act. Assam and West Bengal have exploded in opposition to the law, and the West Bengal government has made it clear that for principled as well as political reasons, the CAA is unacceptable to it.
Third, it is best that the fight against the CAA is led by secular-minded and pluralist segments among Hindus and Muslims jointly rather than be turned into a Hindu-Muslim issue. Portraying it as a Hindu-Muslim issue plays into the hands of extremist majoritarian elements thus defeating the purpose of opposition to the law.
Finally, Muslims should hold their political fire to oppose stringently the promised National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), which is most likely to be the next contentious move on the government’s agenda. It is in this context that they must particularly hold Mr. Shah to his word and insist that no discrimination should take place against them in the NRIC process. Such discrimination, if it takes place, is likely to be even more blatant than a discriminatory CAA, and the Muslims’ case for it to be struck down by the courts would be far stronger and garner even more support.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam turned out to be counterproductive from the BJP’s perspective. Over 19 lakh people were excluded from the NRC list, a substantial number of whom were Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. Unhappy over the final list, the Assam Bharatiya Janata Party demanded a nationwide NRC. The primary purpose of the CAA is to give citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshis while deciding on the extremely complicated process of an NRIC. However, to the BJP’s extreme discomfort, the CAA has set off a political storm in Assam aimed at Bengalis as well as the Central government, a situation reminiscent of the anti-Bengali riots in the early 1960s in undivided Assam. This could even cost the BJP the next election in Assam.
Likely to be targeted
As a result of these factors, it is imperative that Indian Muslims make every attempt to prevent the controversy surrounding the CAA from becoming a Hindu-Muslim issue. This is particularly because they are likely to be targeted for being anti-national and pan-Islamic for agitating on behalf of supposedly illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants. It may be all right for the BJP in the present atmosphere in the country to play the pan-Hindu card; it will be imprudent for Indian Muslims to portray themselves as pan-Islamic on this issue, especially since they need to conserve their political energy to confront the NRIC move, which will be far more pertinent to their future.
Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University