CAA protests: Pulmonary rhetoric is an exercise in futility
The present controversy on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and related issues should not come as a surprise to any analyst. There is always a set pattern in such well-orchestrated protests. It is similar to the composition of water in a pot which has been put on a low flame. Initially, only invisible quantitative changes occur as water gets heated. No one can observe any visible qualitative change in the water. However, when it reaches boiling point, water starts showing qualitative changes which are visible. Like the water, these protests are not spontaneous, but reflect six years of heat administered by the ruling party.
To understand the genesis of the present turmoil, there is a need to factor in the dilemma of a weak Opposition in the face of a proactive ruling political part with a clear political manifesto and which secured a huge majority in the parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2019. Riding the crest of a popular mandate, the ruling party notched up certain landmarks like the abrogation of Article 370, the triple talaq ruling, the peaceful resolution of the Ayodhya dispute and the CAA. Left behind in terms of electoral support in the Parliament, the Opposition is left with no choice but to seek any rallying point against the ruling party outside the Parliament, whether it is at Shaheen Bagh or at Jantar Mantar.
Harish Salve has clearly stated that the CAA is fairly defensible in the face of any challenge to its constitutionality. So do a large number of impartial legal luminaries. There is no point going into the merits of claims and counter- claims when the matter is before the Supreme Court. However, if the protests are still going on causing huge inconvenience to the people as well as hurting India’s global image, this is a cause of serious concern.
In international diplomacy, there is no dearth of forces working to pull down an emerging India. The current situation has given them a handle with which to beat India. It is quite disgraceful that we are subjected to biased and opportunistic write-ups in the foreign media. The moment the protesters projected cracks in our polity, anti-Indian forces seized the opportunity to harm India politically and economically.
The prime minister has stated on the floor of the House that Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Ram Manohar Lohia and many other stalwarts had assured the return of persecuted non-Muslim minorities from Muslim nations after the Partition of India on religious grounds. The present position taken by their partymen is diametrically opposed to that of their own leaders.
This is not the first time that religion has been used as a tool for engineering unrest and violence in India. Whatever may be the secular rhetoric, a legislation that does not discriminate between persecuted religious minorities cannot be blamed on the grounds of fostering religious discrimination. Muslims cannot be considered a persecuted religious minority in a Muslim state and granted citizenship under the proposed fast-track mechanism. The normal legal procedure to apply for Indian citizenship is still open to them.
Emotive protests arising from pent-up political frustrations may not have any legal basis, but this is what prevails today. India is indeed fundamentally a secular country. India did not suddenly become secular after the word ‘secular’ was added to the preamble of our Constitution. Secularism is a concept enshrined in Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution, where religious freedoms have been granted subject to public order, morality and health.
If certain sections of the people are allowed to debunk constitutional bodies like Parliament and the Supreme Court, and to squat on the streets till the constitutional institutions start singing their tune, this will signal the end of a strong and united India.
The author is a former chief secretary, Government of Punjab, India
The views expressed are personal