On January 10, the government officially notified the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, against which (and against its companion measures, NPR and NCR) spontaneous protests have erupted in practically all parts of the country, but it is in no position to lower its guard, such is the quality of the most salient challenge that has presented itself before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in its six years.
The protests are far from abating although they are no longer in the volatile form in which they were first seen in Assam, and later at Jamia Millia Islamia and other parts of Delhi and UP. The government countered this with hubris, with home minister Amit Shah making it a point to reiterate daily that the CAA will not be modified, leave alone rescinded.
While defending CAA, ministers and others seldom refrain from referring to Pakistan. They seek to link the protests to our western neighbour through a sleight of hand. The whole thing is laughable, but it has serious communal intent. The effort of the establishment seems to be to show that it is the minority communities alone that are protesting, and not “normal” Indians. This is belied by what we see every day. But it’s not clear what would have been amiss if this had indeed affected only minority interests? In a democracy, unlike a theocracy, are the minorities expected not to voice their concerns?
In the case of the CAA, it has been constitutionally challenged — most recently by the Kerala government — in the Supreme Court. This is an important avenue of protest. Another example of the continuing nature of the people’s unhappiness with a law that raises a question mark on the government changing the criteria for citizenship is the decision by Jamia Millia Islamia to file an FIR against the Delhi police for unleashing wanton violence against its students after illegally entering the campus on December 15.
The protests against CAA and other measures were a spontaneous outburst of anger by India’s young people, more so the university community, that was met with savage repression by the government. For that reason, it’s hard to see the people’s challenge dying down easily. The Opposition parties came into the picture afterwards. Their participation was important. It took the form of more than a dozen state governments saying they would oppose the three measures that have disturbed the country’s composure. Even Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, whose party helped pass the CAA in Parliament, has announced his opposition to the NRC-NPR. On Monday, the Congress and its UPA partners, besides the Left parties, sat in conclave under the leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to deliberate on how to coordinate and take the protests forward amid the economic downturn and stagflation. That some well-known regional parties, who otherwise oppose the CAA, did not attend the meeting can be little comfort to the Centre.