- Code red flashed in India as the Narendra Modi government has intensified a crackdown on largely peaceful mass protests against the flawed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its bigoted twin the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
- This is the first time that religion has been made a criteria of citizenship of a secular republic and Indian democracy appears increasingly wobbly under Narendra Modi.
When a state starts beating up its students, alarm bells on its democratic credentials should go to red. When a democracy attacks its own students - the future -- it has lost the argument.
Code red flashed in India as the Narendra Modi government has intensified a crackdown on largely peaceful mass protests against the flawed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its bigoted twin the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
This is the first time that religion has been made a criteria of citizenship of a secular republic and Indian democracy appears increasingly wobbly under Narendra Modi. The four-month long lockdown in Kashmir post the repeal of Article 370 (which took away its special status) seems to be without an end date. The fact that Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, was downgraded to Union territory status by Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah is not lost on the 200-million-strong Muslim population of the country.
And, after relentless provocation and dog whistles from the BJP government for the past six years, Muslims are angry. And, the world is worried. The Modi government’s controversial actions are being repeatedly questioned by the United Nations and the United States. And, India has become a role model for Internet blocking with China citing India to justify internet curbs.
As the Indian government seems to dial up the crazy, post the students protests, horrific stories of police excesses trickled out of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) campus. The Yogi Adityanath government’s response was to put a curb on public protests in Uttar Pradesh effectively telling 200 million people that they had no right to public protests.
Students were also under siege in the heart of Delhi at the Jamia Milia Islamia University where the police entered the campus without the vice-chancellor’s permission. Students claimed that they had been fired upon.
The students protest clearly caught the Modi government unawares and it reacted in the only way it knows - a brutal crackdown.
As Assam and the north-east also burned, the moniker I had coined for Amit Shah - a pyromaniac - seemed apt. Shah was shown up as being clueless as in interview after interview, he claimed that anyone who was not a Muslim from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan would be automatically entitled to Indian citizenship -- no questions asked. Assam and the north-east don’t want any settlers -- it is not relevant to them whether they are Muslims or Hindus.
As India burned in a fire set by the Modi government, even its allies seemed squeamish about the Modi majoritarian project. The Akali Dal has demanded that Muslims be included in the CAA. Even Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister and the man with an elastic conscience is scrambling to distance himself from the CAA. Naveen Patnaik, Orissa Chief Minister, whose party had voted for the CAA, said categorically that the NRC will not be implemented in Odisha.
Yet Modi and Shah are undaunted, deploying familiar tropes of Pakistan and urban Naxals opposing the Modi government. Effectively Modi seeks to cast anyone opposed to him as an “anti-national” as Modi is India.
This script would be familiar to those who saw Indira Gandhi’s emergency unfold. I can’t pretend to personal knowledge, I was not born then, but like the protesting students I don’t want that particular history to repeat itself.
As the CAA fire rages, the students clarity of action has exposed many political masks. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi chief minister, has till date not visited the Jamia campus to show solidarity with the students. Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president, has yet again left India for South Korea instead of standing with the students.
The question Modi and Shah need to answer is why CAA now?
Read more from Swati Chaturvedi
- CAA and NRC: A pyromaniac is at play to hound Muslims, turn secular India into a Hindu state
- Rape after rape after rape, but nothing ever changes in India
- Maharashtra elections: The day democracy was stabbed in the back in India
- Kashmir lockdown, arrest of activist, WhatsApp spying: Is India headed from democracy to police state?
What is the need for the CAA and NRC as the Indian economy implodes and growth shrinks for six straight quarters?
Modi has been unable to bring “acche din” (good days) -- his election promise to Indian citizens -- how will he wave a magic wand for the putative refugees.
The Opposition should be asking these questions. They are mute, allowing Modi to dog whistle as usual. Students across 22 campuses are asking Modi and Shah the right questions.
Finally India’s demographic dividend is paying off with the kids saying no to bigotry.