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Interview With Harsh Mandar

Interview With Harsh Mandar

The idea of inclusive nationhood is being destroyed: Harsh Mandar, IPS (Retd)

There have been widespread protests across the country against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill which was recently passed by Parliament. From Assam to Tripura, Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal , Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, people have taken to the streets to show their anger against the bill which grants Indian citizenship to the non-Muslims of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to the Bill even as violent protests continued to rock different parts of the country.

Meanwhile, non BJP led governments have decided not to implement CAB. West Bengal, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh top the list. MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath said that CAB would sow the seeds of division and that will have an adverse impact on ethos of the country. He also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of not convening Chief Ministers’ meet to discuss the CAB bill before tabling it in Parliament.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to former IAS officer and human rights activist Harsh Mandar to know his views on the bill and its implications.

He is an author, columnist, researcher, teacher, and activist who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger, as well as homeless persons and street children. He is the Director of the Centre for Equity. He is a social worker and writer, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger, as well as homeless persons and street children. He was the special commissioner to the Supreme Court of India in the Right to food case.

Mandar recently said that he would register himself as a Muslim if the controversial law is passed by the Parliament and becomes a law.

He described it as unconstitutional and said that it is nothing but an attempt to make India a Hindu rashtra. He also said that it was attack on the Constitution itself and that is a cause of worry.

IC: What’s your take on the Citizenship bill?

Harsh Mandar: It’s a turning point in the journey of Indian republic. It is the most divisive assault on India’s secular and democratic institution. It is an attack on the soul of India and Constitution.

IC: Home Minister Amit Shah gave an assurance that Muslims have nothing to be worried about as they are and will remain citizens of India. Then what is your worry?

It is transparently false because the issue has to be seen in the context of National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam which has led to trust deficit among people. The onus was on the people to produce documents to establish right to be citizen of India. The NRC update exercise was part of the 1985 Assam Accord that marked the end of a six-year-long mass movement demanding detection and deportation of what many believe to be “lakhs of illegal immigrants”, mainly from Bangladesh with whom Assam shares a 262-km border.

Over 1.9 million people were excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the final and updated document published couple of months ago. Realising that the 1.9 million would comprise Hindus as well, the BJP-led state government expressed its disapproval of the mammoth exercise saying the party no longer believed in it.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill passed by Parliament proposes to grant citizenship to the non-Muslims Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhist, Jains and Parsis – from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who arrived in India before December 31, 2014. It meant that the CAB paves way for Indian citizenship to lakhs of immigrants, who identify themselves with any of the given religions, even if they lacked any document to prove their residency. It also means that any immigrant who does not belong to the said communities would not be eligible for Indian citizenship. My concern is that 200 million Muslims of India will have to produce documents to establish their citizenship. Those who fail to produce documents will be stripped off citizenship or will have to stay in detention centres. So, millions of Muslims will suffer from the consequences of CAB exercise.   Hence, Muslims are bound to be scared and devastated. This government is hell bent to prove that Muslims cannot have equal rights. So the idea of inclusive nationhood is being destroyed.

IC: Few BJP led NDA alliance partners have expressed concerns over the exclusion of Muslims from the purview of the legislation. While the BJD said the government has a duty to allay concerns about non-inclusion of Muslims, AIADMK raised the issue of Tamils from Sri Lanka, including Muslims, not being part of the Bill. The SAD welcomed the Bill but said the legislation should have only talked about minorities from neighbouring countries without specifying religions.

It was a token opposition by the allies of the NDA. If the bill had not made differentiation between people on the basis of religion, I would welcome it.

IC: Congress has decided to knock the doors of the Supreme Court on the issue.

We will wait and watch how things unfold. Lot of people are likely to challenge the bill in the Supreme Court. It will be a mistake to rely just on the Supreme Court. This issue cannot be resolved in the court. Given the morally weak opposition the true opposition will come from people and outside the Parliament. The issues pertaining to citizenship is political so it has to be resolved politically. The battle has to be fought on the streets and in our hearts.

IC: Are you suggesting a civil disobedience movement?

Yes. The battle of pre-independence era has been reopened by political forces which never accepted the constitution and had never participated in the freedom struggle. These forces believed in different kind of India and that is what they are trying to build today which is an India, a Hindu rashtra, where minorities have to live like second class citizens.  Making a distinction on the basis of religion will make article 14 and 15 redundant. Is Pakistan our dream country?

(Published on 16th December 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 51)