Its political opponents don’t realise the potential of the CAB in polarising the electorate and how it could propel the BJP to a spectacular victory in the West Bengal assembly election in 2021.
Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on whether the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be implemented in states beyond Assam, home minister Amit Shah on July 17 declared that the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government would identify all illegal migrants staying in India and deport them as per international law.
While the NRC exercise in Assam has a legacy dating back many decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders ranging from Manoj Tiwari to Tejasvi Surya have been calling for a similar exercise in their respective states. In fact, Shah himself had made such references while campaigning in West Bengal in the run-up to the general elections.
In a way, this is a continuum of the BJP’s majoritarian project. Although the long-pending NRC was set rolling by a Supreme Court directive in 2013, the BJP was quick to calibrate its political strategies around it. In fact, when the BJP introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in 2016 (CAB) in the Lok Sabha — to grant Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh citizenship on the basis of “religious persecution” — it was in direct response to the NRC and reflected the BJP’s grand design to protect the illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh.
The bill was then referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) in August 2016, and it was promptly passed in the Lok Sabha after the JPC submitted its report early this year. However, with the BJP not managing to cobble up numbers in the Rajya Sabha, the bill got lapsed. Apart from the lack of numbers, BJP’s partners in the North East, ranging from the Asom Gana Parishad to the National People’s Party (NPP) had raised the banner of revolt ahead of the general elections, forcing it to beat a hasty retreat.
However, with the NRC process due to get finalised on July 31, the BJP has been trying to shore up its numbers in the upper house by engineering defections — possibly to try and pass the CAB in the monsoon session after reintroducing it. Under normal circumstances, the NDA would have attained a majority in the Rajya Sabha before the end of 2020 — the extraordinary haste to cross the hurdle reflects the party’s desperation to pass crucial bills which got stuck in the upper house in its last term.
In fact, the BJP might already have crossed the halfway mark in the Rajya Sabha with its partners in the NDA and friendly parties such as the BJD, TRS, YSRC and the AIADMK making. However, the BJP would still prefer to have a cushion and might want to buy time by approaching the Supreme Court to defer the finalisation of NRC.
Nityanand Rai, the Union minister of state for home, informed the Rajya Sabha on July 17 of the government’s intent to push for an extension of the deadline. Although it is overtly being justified on grounds of eliminating errors in the final list, it could also be aimed at buying time to reintroduce the cab in both houses to try and insulate the Hindus found without valid papers after the culmination of the NRC exercise. Though the CAB will ultimately have to pass judicial scrutiny, as it will be tested against Article 14 of the Constitution (equality before law), part of the ‘basic structure’, the government seems quietly confident of crossing that hurdle.
While the NRC fell into its lap just as unexpectedly as the Ayodhya issue in the late eighties, the BJP was quick to come up with the CAB to make political capital out of it. Needless to say, its political opponents don’t realise the potential of the CAB in polarising the electorate and how it could propel the BJP to a spectacular victory in the West Bengal assembly election in 2021.
In the run-up to the recently-concluded general elections, Shah invoked the NRC more than once in West Bengal reiterating that it will be extended to the state while ensuring that Hindu refugees are not touched. Pray, how would the BJP ensure the exemption of Hindu refugees from the NRC? Elementary, the passage of the CAB would take care of that.
The demand to replicate NRC in states such as West Bengal among others offer the BJP with infinite possibilities to push the majoritarian rhetoric and keep the communal pot boiling through the next few months and years. It isn’t a coincidence that the CAB has taken care of everyone but Muslims despite the fact that Ahmediyas and Hazaras are persecuted in Pakistan. Also not extending it to Myanmar looks to be a convenient ploy to deprive the persecuted Rohingyas of succour.
The CAB had pegged the cut-off date as December 31, 2014 (as against March 24, 1971 for the NRC) for the grant of citizenship. Effectively, it means the passage of the CAB would render the non-Muslims who entered and settled in India between 1971 and 2014 as Indian citizens. In such a scenario, the detention camps in Assam would cater exclusively to the unfortunate Muslims.
If Shah means business when he declares that this government would identify and deport illegal migrants across the nation, it presages the culmination of the Hindutva majoritarian project.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator and editor, The Kochi Post. Views are personal.The Great Diwali Discount!
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