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15 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM

CAB leads to strong protests

The BJP led government is unlikely to be cowed down by adverse reactions
Kumkum Chadha
CAB leads to strong protests

When Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced and subsequently succeeded in ensuring the smooth passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament, he had neither bargained for an adverse international reaction nor a violent domestic one.  Popular as CAB, the new law has set Assam is on fire,  with the country’s capital Delhi also catching up. The north-eastern state saw violent protests; agitators defied curfew and clashed with the Police in the state. Frenzied mobs staged demonstrations; police fired bullets which injured and also killed people. Vehicles were set ablaze and government buildings vandalized. The chief minister of Assam was stranded at the airport for several hours on Wednesday because roads were blocked by protests. Home Minister Amit Shah's visit to Shillong, which was scheduled for Sunday, also stands cancelled amid the anti-CAB protests.  

Tripura has followed suit. In both states, there is a fear among the people that illegal non-Muslim immigrants will over-run them from neighbouring Bangladesh

Protests have not spared Delhi too. Students came out in large numbers and those  from Jamia Millia Islamia have called for a march to Parliament House from the university campus to express their opposition to the controversial legislation.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill proposes to grant citizenship to  Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhist, Jains and Parsis -- from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who arrived in India before December 31, 2014. It excludes Muslims on grounds that they do  not face persecution in a Muslim majority state and are not a minority there. Shah went as far as saying in Parliament: ."Do you want us to grant citizenship to Muslims from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, from Bangladesh, from the entire world? How can that be? How will we function if that happens?" he asked.

To sum up, the CAB paves way for Indian citizenship to lakhs of immigrants, who identify themselves with any of the given religions.

Also, as per the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, any illegal immigrant from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who belongs to these said communities will not be deported or imprisoned if they are not carrying any valid documents for their residency in India.

Earlier, the duration of the immigrants' residency was 11 years. The amended bill has reduced it to five years. This means that immigrants from the three countries and from the mentioned religions, who have entered India before December 31, 2014, would not be treated as illegal immigrants

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill exempts certain areas in the North-East from this provision including Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram along with almost whole of Meghalaya and parts of Assam and Tripura would stay out of the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

Apart from Opposition ruled states including Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Kerala, West Bengal and Punjab resisting the implementation of the new law in their states, what has hit hard is the adverse international reaction that the Indian government had perhaps not envisaged. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi over stating the goodwill he enjoys with his foreign counterparts, cancellation of visits beginning with Bangladesh and followed by Japan have perhaps come as a rude shock to the Modi-Shah duo and hit where it hurts the most.

After India passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on Wednesday, Bangladesh foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen cancelled his trip to New Delhi.

He was scheduled to arrive on Thursday evening, attend the ministerial keynote session of Delhi Dialogue and Indian Ocean Dialogue on Friday and then hold a breakfast meeting with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar.

However, just hours before his arrival in India, the  foreign minister  cancelled his visit.

The last minute cancellation is being attributed to it clashing with Bangladesh’s Victory Day. Another explanation was that since his junior minister and foreign secretary were both out of the country, Momen could not be away. Even while the Indian government asserted that any speculation to link the cancellation to CAB was “unwarranted”, one cannot but ponder over Momen’s first reaction to Shah’s assertion about there being religious persecution of minorities in Bangladesh.

One cannot overlook Momen terming  “untrue the allegations of minority repression in Bangladesh by Home Minister Amit Shah, saying whoever gave them the information, it is not correct”.

Momen reportedly said in an interview to a local newspaper: “What they are saying in regard to torture on Hindus is unwarranted as well as untrue…There are a very few countries in the world where communal harmony is as good as in Bangladesh. We have no minorities. We are all equal. If Amit Shah stayed in Bangladesh for a few months, he would see the exemplary communal harmony in our country,” he added.

 Momen also said it could weaken India’s historic character as a secular nation.

“India is historically a tolerant country which believes in secularism (but) their historic position will be weakened if they deviate from that.”

On Thursday night, Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal also cancelled his private visit to Meghalaya, with Shillong also erupting in anti-CAB protests. Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan was expected to attend an event in Shillong to pay tribute to the sacrifice of the guerrillas of the Mukti Bahini, who assisted India in the war against Pakistan in 1971. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma had urged the Minister to visit the places where he stayed during the war of 1971.

Another cancellation was from Japan with the proposed visit of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe scheduled to be held in Guwahati being cancelled.

“With reference to the proposed visit of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe's visit to India, both sides have decided to defer the visit to a mutually convenient date in the near future,” Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said.

Abe was scheduled to visit India to participate in the India-Japan summit with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi later this week in Guwahati. The Japanese PM was to visit the country for three days, between December 15 and 17. The visit has been cancelled due to the escalation in violence in Assam over the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom which is a federal body has slammed the Bill as being “ a dangerous turn in the wrong direction”. It has gone as far as advocating sanctions against India on the issue.

But the BJP led government is unlikely to be cowed down by adverse reactions: either nationally or  internationally. It has an agenda to pursue which while electorally amounts to consolidation of the Hindu vote, at the national level it is another step towards redefining India to a Hindu rashtra and ensuring that Hindus are positioned as having the first right, so to say, to all resources and constitutional offices.

The RSS, the parent organisation has always believed that India is essentially a Hindu civilisation, and everyone else is a migrant. Muslims essentially are seen as invaders.

Therefore however much sanity and logic the government may want to lend to the CAB, the hidden agenda is exclusion and marginalisation of Muslims. It is in this context that one cannot but help link the BJP’s bid to identify illegal immigrants through the National Register of Citizen or the NRC in Assam: again a move seen as one to exclude Muslims and garner Hindu votes. The NRC is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh became an independent country.

It is therefore not without reason that Shah told Parliament that “there is no need to connect Citizenship (Amendment) Bill with National  Register of Citizens (NRC)” even while he stated that the NRC will be brought in soon.

So what does all this say about India? On the one hand it speaks of it being ruled by a government all-willing to address pending issues be it Kashmir, illegal migration or protecting the persecuted and projecting itself as a government which is distinctly different from those in the past; on the other it is going all out to change the narrative and doing what it can to redefine the ethos and spirit of the country that is fast becoming Bharat.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected])



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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