The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that the Narendra Modi government has passed as part of its assault on Muslims hinges on one crucial assumption – that Hindus are the most gullible of all Indians. Because in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which will follow next, hundreds of millions of citizens will soon be standing in line to prove their nationality. And most of them will be Hindus.
During a television debate on the CAB the other day, a pro-BJP panelist assured me this government did not hate Muslims. And the passing of the CAB would not mean any discrimination against Muslims seeking protection. Her proof of this astonishing declaration – India gave Adnan Sami citizenship in 2015! I almost laughed out loud on national television. I could not care less about rich, famous London-born Pakistani citizens that any government singles out for love. I do care for my India, and for each of my fellow Indians – Muslim and Hindu, and all others. Especially the poorest, the paperless, the undocumented.
The NRC and CAB are twins of the same bad seed. But they are different. CAB is clear ideological war on the Indian constitution, and a propaganda tool.
Ideological – because it will establish a legal precedent for ‘religion’ as a benchmark for citizenship, claiming to protect persecuted Hindus and all other minority communities from three Muslim majority countries, but leaving out Muslims. Anything to beat Muslims with, strike at the constitutional core of their rights, spread fear and give them sleepless nights. Destroy and divide India, but forge ahead with the saffron vision. Propaganda – because the Union home minister keeps telling Hindus they have nothing to fear from the NRC once the CAB is in place. The truth is that the NRC will ruin us all. Hindus too.
The government’s CAB-NRC project is pushing a narrative and regime of fear, obedience and enslavement of all Indians. Citizenship is that most fundamental human right of belonging to a nation, of claiming a tiny spot on this vast planet as your country, of being entitled to its protection.
The government is threatening to push the NRC process across India and using the CAB to push the propaganda that excluded Hindus will somehow be saved. It is narrativising citizenship itself like a prasad ka laddoo, with the Amit Shah as halwai-cum-dispenser-in-chief. Listen to the home minister as he introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019. Pay attention to his choice of words and watch his body language. It’s how one imagines a medieval despot who will grant citizenship or take it away, when he pleases. “Hum unko nagarikta denge, hum unko nagarikta denge,” he says again and again with a grand wave of his arm. ‘Hum’ – the royal ‘We.’
It speaks to the blindness of an ideological project that does not even care for its own claimed adherents, namely Hindus. Muslims are the clear unambiguous target of both CAB and NRC. That should not surprise us. Much this government has done, and is doing, is intended to stomp upon and strip away rights of Indian Muslims. Squashing Muslims is key to the Hindutva project. And it seems tedious to keep bleating on about it. This is who they are. This is their nasty brand of politics. And we should not expect different.
But learn from Assam, that it is equally lakhs of Hindus who have already paid, and millions more elsewhere who will again pay, the price for this project. Recall the heart-breaking images coming from Assam. These are all extremely poor, desperate people. And yes, lakhs are Hindu too. The NRC in Assam had a specific local history, and rationale. The BJP tried to communalise it, superimposing its Hindu-Muslim lens atop the Assamese-Bengali fault-line; the Supreme Court implemented it inhumanely, and look at the miserable disgruntled tragic mess there. In the rest of India, the NRC will generate mayhem on an epic scale.
Once the NRC rolls out, we are all reduced to non-citizens till Amit Shah and his officials decide otherwise. Imagine that moment in your head. The home minister has repeatedly threatened a national NRC to remove all (Muslim) ‘termites’ and ‘infiltrators’, but vowed loudly and clearly to save Hindus through the CAB. Let us examine what this claim will actually look like.
- Going by the Assam template of the NRC, we will all be presumed non-citizens, until proven otherwise. Hindus too.
- Please remember all 3.3 crore Assam residents had to apply for the NRC. Hindus too.
- The onus will be on each of us to prove that our country is ours. Hindus too.
- The home minister says no Hindu left out of the NRC in Assam will suffer because the grand master of this circus will bring in the CAB.
- Congratulations, Sir. Almost there. Now what?
- 19 lakh people have been left out of the NRC in Assam, an estimated 12 lakh are Hindus, including non-Bengali Hindus from north India.
- Each of them claimed to be Indian citizens. But the CAB requires them to claim they are religiously persecuted refugees from Bangladesh.
- 12 lakh people will have to say their papers are fraudulent, and they lied. Which is why the CAB has to exempt them from any legal action.
- These Hindus also claimed to have come to Assam pre-1971, which was the cut-off for the NRC.
- So, these lakhs of pre-1971 Hindus, including the non-Bengalis, will now have to first declare they are East Pakistanis and then say 1) I lied that I am Indian. 2) Those who claim to have been persecuted by Bangladesh, will have to say I lied because I actually came after 1971, when Bangladesh was born And 3) I was religiously persecuted.
Good luck with that.
I wonder what CAB ‘rules’ are being cooked up to take care of all the above.
An NRC in the rest of India, even with the CAB in place, will look no different. What’s a poor paperless Tamil Hindu going to say to the NRC? Hey, I’m actually Afghani. Worse, can’t speak a word of Bangla but I’m really Bangladeshi. Basically, it is absurd propaganda that every paperless poor Hindu in India will somehow be protected because the CAB is here.
What the NRC project will do is make us all stand in queue to audition for citizenship to a despotic government. Muslims are rightfully more fearful because they will be targeted by a likely communalised NRC machinery, particularly in BJP ruled states, but everyone will be in queue. Think of it. Who does not have ‘citizenship’ papers in this country? The poor, the rural, landless, migrants, the homeless, the women. Hindus too. The NRC-CAB project is an anti-people political tool in service of a divisive ideology.
This exercise could warrant its own ministry. Given that in Assam alone the NRC cost more than Rs 1,220 crore, in all of India it could be upwards of Rs 50,000 or 60,000 crore. With a crawling economy and zooming unemployment, this is crazy governance. Its intent is to let the BJP keep the Hindu-Muslim pot on a boil, making sure everyone is forever just a Hindu or a Muslim, forget about the onion prices, and help the BJP win the 2024 election. There will be mayhem across the country. Muslims will bear the brunt of this, but India’s vast Hindu population will also suffer collateral damage. And all our rights as citizens will have been forever eroded.
If we as Indians can’t see this and don’t oppose the CAB-NRC project now, we will all be soon standing in queues of supplication holding our papers in triplicate. Remember how we stood like idiots in queues post demonetisation? My 12-year old son still bemoans the old 500 note he got for Eid, and hid in his piggy bank for a rainy day. He had no idea about demonetisation, so the worthless note stayed.
It’s now in my desk drawer. A relic of our times. I have not relented and given him a new note. Perhaps in my mind I think of it as a kid learning to recognise the footfall of fascism the hard way. And unless Hindus and Muslims and Christians and Sikhs unite today to prevent this CAB-NRC nightmare, the precious freedom our grandparents and great grandparents won for us together, at that midnight hour, stands betrayed. We shall be a divided nation. Jinnah will smile from his grave. The India we knew will be a relic of our times.
Farah Naqvi is an activist and writer who lives and works in Delhi.