Article 370, CAB, NRC: Where do we go from here?

Anti CAB protests in Agartala on December 10 – The News Mill
Demonstrators shout slogans to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill during the shutdown called by North East Students Organization (NESO), in Agartala on Tuesday

For more than a quarter century since the Kargil War, India has steadfastly progressed in all fields to become a major economy and defence power, a leading educational destination, and a political force to reckon with in international affairs. It evolved to be by far the leader of South Asia and the second most important nation politically and the third largest economy in Asia.

But with one fell swoop, the spate of recent developments have equated and hyphenated India and Pakistan in global mind-space. From the controversial Balakot strike on which the world opinion was unanimous that India had gained nothing, to abrogation of Article 370 and dictatorial detention of any one who matters in Kashmir with masses denied of normalcy, to now Citizenship Amendment Act (with added fear of twining it with a National Register of Citizens): India has positioned itself as a petty regional power at war with neighbours and within itself with a section of its own population. The closest neighbour Bangladesh is also now on back-foot.

The depth and power of Indian democracy are evident in the fact that dictatorial China has not yet banned internet in Hongkong in spite of crippling unrest and an all out civil disobedience there for weeks together, but India has deprived people of Kashmir from internet and earlier even basic telecommunication for more than four months now, and today (December 11 evening onwards) extending the same to several parts of Northeast – 10 districts in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya – facing just a day or two of protests.

It is almost like uncertainty and brazenness in national life is the new normal in India. There is absolute no justification of say 82-year-old Farookh Abdullah, three times CM and current MP who carried Indian flag through the thick and thin of heyday of militancy in Kashmir, being detained for more than four months now with three months extension recently under Public Safety Act. It is another thing that he himself once was a votary of this abused law. And similar is the fate of teenagers in dozens and scores whose parents are not even sure where they are and if alive.

They say global economy is moving towards a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Nothing symbolizes Indian polity more than that today. Overnight 86 per cent of the currency in India was declared no more legal tenders in November 2016. In the name of One Nation One Tax, five layered Goods and Services Tax was brought in, which has gone through a spate of 11 rounds of changes within less than two years and still far from being one nation one tax. The nation has slipped into the lowest economic growth rate of 4.5 per cent GDP growth officially while critics of the government and from outside and within the ruling party (e.g. Subramaniam Swamy) consider the real growth to be lesser than 2 per cent. All core sectors of the economy today are in their worst phase of decline in growth since 2000. The joblessness is in its worst situation in last 45 years and public consumption lowest in last one decade, so says the government statistical body, NSSO.

Merely mouthing global recession cannot anymore justify the Indian economic slowdown since when India stands far below 5 per cent, Bangladesh has posted above 8 per cent growth-rate, Sri Lanka above 7 per cent, China, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives above 6 per cent, and even Pakistan and Afghanistan above 5 per cent. So WhatsApp campaigns of a heady concoction of white lies and mixed truths apart, India stands on a weak wicket, perhaps the weakest in last three decades.

But then politics is a game of perception. And masters of the art of narratives have always played on public fears and created perceptions of being their saviours. And so is the Indian government of the day walking those steps. Nearly 75 per cent of the people are being told to be scared of 16 per cent of the citizenry and all mechanisms to spread hatred towards this ‘other’ are being formally (through CAA, promised NRC, 370 abrogation etc) and informally (through public discourse and troll army) propagated vitiating the hard earned amity and harmony of earlier years. A nation with a Deep Army State, failing economy, abject poverty and bloody stained fault-lines, and a size and population lesser than some Indian states, Pakistan, is put forth by the government and the compromised mainstream media as the biggest challenge for the largest democracy and one among the top 5 economies of the world, India! What an irony!

The promised national NRC and the freshly minted CAA together are a potent weapon to isolate and demonize the Muslims. NRC, as seen in Assam, calls for detailed paperwork to prove citizenship of every Indian for two to three earlier generations, which coupled with immense procedural lapses and corruption in the process, will lead to many Indians failing to prove their descent in India and thereby their citizenship. In a nation where for half the population the main concern is four square meals, and where one-fourth of the population lives in constant fear of flood, famine, storms and migration, maintaining papers of 50 to 70 years is a tall task.

And then, from among those who fail to prove their citizenship, Muslims will be singled out, because new Citizenship law allows only non-Muslims to appeal for citizenship ostensibly on the ground of persecution in the three neighbouring nations (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh). This is in total contravention of articles 14, 16 and 25 of the Indian constitution. Such an appeal will depend on just a hundred rupees affidavit! Complete recipe for brutalization, communalization and degeneration of the society as you cannot live in peace by isolating and demonizing 16% of your population which happens to be the second highest Muslim population in any nation!

Further, what happens on ground is a story to be seen later, but the panic it creates, with the painful five years long case study of Assam in front of us, is itself good enough to wreck the fragile social harmony in India like never before. But all is good if that leads to the desired polarization within the majority community in favour of the ruling party: this is the elephant in the room which no one talks about but all are aware of.

The possible outcomes of these are: northeastern people’s anger towards refugees and immigrants would worsen and turn into basically an anti-Bengali and anti-Muslim frenzy, more fundamentalist elements within the Muslim community across India would emerge to be the leading lights of the community with the gradual decline in liberal Muslim voices, and loss of work for disempowered communities would lead to long-term negative economic impact. And India being an international pariah from a wise leader of the non-aligned world and a seat of peace and learning would be the other reality. Already UN Spokesperson, UN High Commission on Refugees and Commonweath Commission on Human Rights have deplored the new citizenship law of India and more than 32 leading media and several global voices have denounced the curtailment of freedom of the Kashmiri people for months together by now.

The only right political outcomes that should evolve now are: Muslim elders to aggressively avoid community-centric aggression and combine forces with Dalits and secular voices in other communities and lead a joint movement against CAA-NRC, and the opposition forces (Congress, regional and the Left) should finally understand that this is not an era of usual political competition but an extra-ordinary situation which needs all political forces to unite against fascist trends and one party dominance. Left Front and Congress led Front jointly protesting in Kerala against CAA, TMC-Congress joint protests in Kolkata, Sena-NCP-Congress joint rule in Maharashtra are some initial signs of meltdown of ideological rigidity and coming together of the opposition. There is the need of a civil society activism to preserve the Ganga-Jamunee culture of synthetic polity of India and its constitution signs of which are also on the rise with a civil society protest pegged on December 19 all across India, the day marked as Shahadat Diwas with Hindu born Ramprasad Bismil, Muslim born Ashfaqullah and Sikh born Sardan Roshan Singh all hanged to death by colonial British government long back on this day.

Every instance, story, art, poetry, literature, music, dance, play, film and culture of our shared Hindu-Muslim-Others’ history, of the synthetic Idea of India, needs to be told and retold, enacted, shown, exhibited across India today. This is not about Muslims, but about India as we know against an unknown India which plans to be majoritarian, dictatorial and an international pariah.

There can be a new VUCA too and India needs one: Vision (for a shared future), Understanding (of the other and diversity), Collaboration (with diverse groups), and Agility (to progress economically, technologically, ecologically, educationally, and in healthcare).

(The views expressed by the author are his own. The News Mill may not subscribe to the views expressed by the author.)

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About Ujjwal K Chowdhury


The author is an academic, television panelist, columnist and public speaker on issues of media, politics and education.