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Harsimrat Badal's Support for Citizenship Bill Runs Contrary to the 'Gujral Doctrine'

The Union minister praised the former PM's ideal of a world without conflict, but supported the discriminatory law.

Remembering the contributions of former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral on his birth centenary, Union minister for food processing industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal wrote an article in The Tribune on Thursday. According to the her, after Mahatma Gandhi’s call for ‘ahimsa’ and A.B. Vajpayee’s slogan ‘insaaniyat and jamhooriat’, the other ideal that has emerged from India and ignited hope for humanity, based on a vision of a world without conflict, is the famous ‘Gujral Doctrine’.

Kaur believes that “the doctrine is rooted in the ancient and the original Indian vision of ‘Vishwa Kutumbukam’ (the whole world is one family). It sums up not just a political and diplomatic approach, but also the whole persona of the author himself.” Towards the conclusion of the article she notes:

“Today, when Gujral is no longer with us…The Doctrine which became known by his name still remains the best formula to address issues not only of international nature but also domestic and, to some extent, even of a personal nature.”

Also read: Why the Proposed Citizenship Amendment Runs Foul of Constitutional Provisions

Naturally, she would like us to follow and carry forward the great legacy of Gujral. It is, however, another matter that Kaur, and the cabinet that she is a part of, in all its practicality, seem to be working against the very spirit of the doctrine that she wants us to follow and celebrate. Her stand on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is the latest example of the blatant double standards practised by the minister. Thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a day before her article appeared in the newspaper, she tweeted: “refugee Sikhs will now have access to all rights due to a citizen of India.”

It is possible that the Bill might help refugee Sikhs gain ‘equal rights’, but what is clear at the very outset is that the proposed law is discriminatory and violates the spirit of the doctrine that she refers to as a vision for a world without conflict, and as the best formula to address issues related to domestic and international strife.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Photo: PTI

At the heart of the CAB, as several observers have pointed out, is the anti-Muslim bias of the current regime, as the proposed law allows all ‘illegal immigrants’ from neighbouring countries to become Indian citizens, excluding Muslims. This also complicates the matter for those Muslims who have been left out of the NRC, another process that has proven to be quite discriminatory. This will also lead to a situation where all allegedly ‘illegal’ Muslim immigrants will have no other option but to approach the Foreign Tribunals, which are nothing short of Kangaroo courts.

Also read: Citizenship Bill: The Communal Aftershocks That Shook India’s Neighbours Post Babri

Hence, the pertinent question to ask here would be if ‘the whole world is one family’, then why should a section of the family, purely on the basis of their religion, not be accommodated? Wouldn’t this be in contradiction to the very spirit of the Gujral doctrine? It would be worthwhile to remember what veteran journalist Mark Tully had observed in his obituary of the former PM:

“At its heart (the doctrine) was the highly significant recognition that India must treat its neighbours more generously, and in particular no longer insist on reciprocal measures.”

This is important to remember as it is often argued that since our neighbours are not treating their religious minorities well, so we can be entitled to react in a similar manner.

There is another aspect to Gujral’s legacy which the cabinet minister seems to have conveniently forgotten, which the former PM was known to have believed in and practised diligently with a principled stand. Writing in The Guardian, Lewis Macleod recounted his brief encounter in London with Gujral, who was then (in 1996) the foreign minister of India. That year, at the UN during a vote on the comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty, India’s only supporters in the motion were Bhutan and Libya. The other 158 countries had opposed India’s stance.

File photo of Inder Kumar Gujral in South Africa October 6, 1997. Photo: Reuters/Juda Ngwenya/Files

During his interaction, Macleod asked Gujral that “158 for three more resembled a cricket score than a UN vote, and was not India therefore rather isolated on this issue?” To this, Gujral replied, “Yes, Delhi did appear to be isolated on this question at the present time, but in the past, taking principled positions on difficult issues has been proven right, and India’s stance has later become the mainstream view.” Gujral followed this with examples of India’s stand on the Vietnam war and the Palestinian question.

Contrary to the Gujral doctrine, India has, in recent years, failed to take a principled position, especially in matters concerning refugees who happen to be Muslims. In fact, in September 2017, an affidavit by the Modi government on Rohingya refugees reversed India’s long-held stand on non-refoulment. As The Wire had reported then, the government of India, in its affidavit before the Supreme Court, said that as a non-signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, it was not obliged to adhere to the principle of non-refoulment, which was a total reversal of India’s publicly stated position made at various international fora over the years.

Also read: A Common Thread in the Centre’s Plans on the Brewing Citizenship Question

Had Gujral been alive today, he would not have let the preceding incidents take place. He would have protested, as he did in October 2007, in the wake of the Junta’s crackdown on protesters led by Buddhist monks that year. He, along with George Fernandes, reportedly marched with a large group of Myanmarese refugees to the Parliament Street of New Delhi, “passionately urging India to ensure the return of democracy in the neighbouring country and stop exporting arms to the military junta.”

So, in order to seriously remember Gujral and celebrate his legacy, the least that our leaders, including the current foreign minister S. Jaishankar, who was seen singing paeans of Gujral at a recent event, should ensure that a communal and discriminatory law like the CAB is not passed in parliament in its current form. That would be the greatest tribute to the former PM. Failing to do so would eventually be failing the essence of the Gujral doctrine.