An incorrect diagnosis
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the protests that have erupted in the wake of the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. He said that rights and duties of citizens go together, and indicated they should remember their duties. On Thursday, home minister Amit Shah categorically blamed Delhi’s “tukde-tukde gang” — a term which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters often use to describe people they consider “anti-national”. And army chief, General Bipin Rawat, while speaking on the larger issue of leadership, referred to current protests and said that some are leading crowds to carry out arson and violence.
Put all three statements together, and the government’s diagnosis of recent protests is clear. It believes the blame for the unrest lies with political adversaries and others who have dissented or critiqued the government. It believes that citizens, rather than the State, have the responsibility of what has happened. Interestingly, the non-violent protests seem to have made no impact on it; in its own reading, the fact that most protests in non-BJP ruled states have been peaceful only confirms that they are being fanned by its political opponents.
This diagnosis is flawed. It is indisputable that violence and vandalism have broken out — and must be condemned, but the overwhelming component of the protests has been peaceful. Students across universities, actors, political parties, civil society organisations and activists, even independent professionals who came on to the streets, and yes, minorities and those in the Northeast, genuinely believe that the Act undermines either the Constitution or potentially affects their rights. The government’s job is to engage with all these constituencies, rather than condemn and demonise them. This is also a time when the governments concerned, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, rather than citizens, need to be reminded of their duty in respecting the Constitution and respecting citizen rights. In the northern state, the police has clearly acted excessively, shooting when it did not need to; detaining people without due process; and cracking down on liberties. It is also inappropriate for General Rawat to have spoken on what is a clear political issue, in what is becoming a recurring trend of the military’s leadership. The government, if it wants a solution to the crisis, should get its diagnosis right.