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CAA Imbroglio:PLAYING VOTE BANK POLITICS?, By Proloy Bagchi, 10 January 2020 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 10 January 2020

CAA Imbroglio  


By Proloy Bagchi


The opposition to the Citizens Amendment Act is understandable. With our secular claims, granting citizenship on the basis of religion appears to be obnoxious and is generally revolting against the spirit of secularism. Whatever might have been the considerations, the law seems to be flawed. To say that it’s what the previous governments didn’t do, following the Nehru-Liaqat Pact more than half a century back, and that it’s the “unfinished business” that this government has brought to an end, does not quite gel with our secular traditions. Surely, there must have been other options available to the government to achieve its objectives but these were not availed of. And the result has been furor and tumult and veritable chaos in the country, with students and civil society leading the protests.


Already, a few petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court, quite a few of which are by members of a few Muslim organisations. Whether the law is in conformity with the Constitutional parameters will be decided by the Court. But, in the meantime it has aroused antipathetic feelings among the Indians as well as the Indian diaspora. Among the foreign political parties the Democrats in the US and the Labour Party in UK are clearly unhappy with the provisions of the Law. They did not expect the largest secular pluralistic democracy to frame a law that excludes practitioners of one particular faith from its ambit.


A rumour is floating around that as soon as the government realised that the NRC in Assam produced an unexpected result – that of exclusions of around 19 lakh individuals many of whom are Hindus, the government hastened to bring in the CAA in order to exclude Muslims infiltrators or those Muslims who may not have the necessary documents to prove their length of residence in India. The idea appears to be to get at only the alleged Muslims infiltrators leaving out those of the other communities, especially Hindus. Thereby the Government advertently stepped on the toes of North-Eastern States, particularly Assam by acting in breach of the provisions of the Assam Accord according to which the cut-off date for determining infiltrators was 25th March 1971 as against the cut-off date of 31st December 2014 indicated in the CAA.


The cut-off date thus was pushed away more than 40 years during which many more infiltrators – predominantly Muslims and Hindus – would have entered the State. While Muslims may eventually get deported or repatriated or become stateless, Assam would be saddled with many more lakhs of Bangladeshi Hindu infiltrators for whom there is nothing provided in the law. Whether they would be absorbed in Assam after grant of Indian citizenship or will be distributed among several States is not known. The law is curiously silent about it. The law overlooked the fact that an infiltrator is an infiltrator regardless of his religion.


The Assamese thus are landed with a problem that they do not like one bit. They have always opposed the way they were being swamped by outsiders, particularly from Bangladesh as their identity, language, traditions and way of life came under threat and was likely to be overwhelmed by the massive induction of foreigners. Their fear was that they would be subsumed under the sheer weight of the foreigners, whom they wanted to be ousted from their land. By remaining silent on this score the CAA does a bad turn to the Assamese.


The question is whether the CAA was really needed. The problem was straightforward, that of throwing out the illegal residents from the country. Assam had the largest number and its problem was more acute. Under the Assam accord some work was done to identify the foreigners but it was the then Assam Government of Tarun Gogoi which played foul and dragged its feet. The Indian National Congress, the party then in power, thought it had got a vote bank thrown into its lap without ever trying to get one. It never showed in keenness to forcefully implement the existing laws to push out the illegal immigrants. An opportunity of clearing the State of all infiltrators was thus lost.


It is the policy of acquiring vote banks by political parties that is putting the country and its people in difficulties. While the Congress government remained inert in Assam and remained mute and inactive witnesses to the influx from Bangladesh, sometimes even welcoming it as prospective vote bank a similar attitude was displayed by the CPM and later by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Today, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in vehement opposition of CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC) for fear of losing her vote bank of Bangladeshis in West Bengal. She is singing a different tune today as when she was in the Opposition she would harangue the CPM government to expel the Bangladeshis.


Likewise, the new legislation of CAA has at its back the votes of those who are benefited and BJP thinks that its expectation of this windfall is legitimate. While in the East it hopes to garner the votes of Bangladeshi Hindus in Assam, in the West it is the Sindhis who are likely to go en bloc in its favour in any election. The latter are already pro-BJP and the thousands and lakhs who will be benefited will add to their strength. This apart, if NRC is implemented in West Bengal the State’s Hindu population may feel obligated to vote for the BJP feeling relieved, as it were, from the oppressive presence of the Bangladeshis.


There are so many unanswered questions that it feels that the some lose knots were left to be tightened before the bill was tabled in Parliament. But there is the nagging feeling that in the whole imbroglio, political parties are clearly seen to be playing the game of vote banks without any regard to the interests of the country. The loser in this game are the country and the State of Assam as most of the other North Eastern States are already covered by the system of Inner Line Permits (ILP) that are to be obtained by outsiders before they attempt to enter any of these. There was a recent report that Meghalaya is thinking of introducing the system of ILP. It is only the State of Assam which will have to deal with the hundreds and thousands of illegal immigrants and, in all probability, absorb them within its borders.


Whether the change in the philosophy for grant of citizenship has undone the Partition which was based on religion is another question? If all Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh are to be given Indian citizenship, the partition would seem to be undone. While Pakistan and Bangladesh throw out their Hindus, the Indian Muslims remain rooted where they are. The new philosophy does not seem to have taken into consideration either the spatial constraint or the limited natural resources that the country possesses. If all Hindus of the world are to be given Indian citizenship on demand, as the RSS seems to suggest, would we be able to accommodate or feed them all now that we are already 137 crore?---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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