It has been a year painted red with the blood of the innocent.
An eleven-year-old boy is among possibly 25 dead in a popular national uprising against what many say is the sustained effort of the Narendra Modi government to isolate the Muslim population, demonising their religious identity, robbing them of a safe haven and threatening their future. The year-end came with a triple whammy -- the hastily-passed amendment to the Citizenship Act, an imminent nation-wide religious survey under the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and a National Population Register (NPR) to coincide with the 2021 decadal survey.
At the root of all these is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s fear, sustained through the propaganda by its founding organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which will be 100 years old in 2025, that the Muslims are, through their high birth rate and their infiltration from Bangladesh and other regions, going to overwhelm the Hindu population, and thereby thwart the formation of Hindu Rashtra.
This flies in the face of reason, nature and demographic sciences, but that has not stopped the fake news or the vicious rumour. In fact, government surveys have shown that compared to Christians and Sikhs, both Hindus and Muslims have a high population growth, but in recent years, both, specially the Muslims, have shown a decline in this growth. There will never be a day when the Muslim population in India will surpass that of the Hindus. For the record, both Sikhs and Christian populations are static – Christians at about 2.3 per cent spread all over India, and the Sikhs just under 2 percent, but largely located in Punjab.
The Sangh premises this on the basis of the divine grant claimed by Israel which affirms itself as the natural home of all Jews settled anywhere in the world. Much like Israel, BJP visions India to be the motherland of all Hindus settled by choice or force anywhere in the world, giving them the right to return at will and claim citizenship, at par with natural born citizens.
In between somewhere is the dream of reversing the Partition of the sub-continent in 1947, resulting from colonial British empire vacating the land. The RSS had not participated in the Freedom struggle. Its collaborator, the Hindu Mahasabha, had formed coalition governments in Bengal and elsewhere with Muslim parties like Krishak Praja Party of Fazlul Haq in 1941. V. D. Savarkar had been jubilant that the coalition was a success. But remembering history is not a strong point of the current government and the men and women who run it.
India under the BJP, specially under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, loves Israel, the might of the Israeli army and, above all, its ability to keep the Muslim neighbours at bay. This has a visceral appeal to the militarist spirit of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP.
Israel asserts its right to change demography through settlements of new migrants, an argument the Sangh has used in the context of the Kashmir Valley and talks about in Assam where it fears the previous Congress regimes had allowed largescale infiltration or migration of Muslims to shore up its vote bank.
The fact that Nepal too is the home of the Hindus in that fashion is conveniently ignored. But India has an absolutely porous border with Nepal, giving Nepalese, mostly Hindus, the right to join Indian armed forces, seek civilian jobs and marry without hindrance. In the process, they can also own property. The reverse is not entirely as hunky-dory, with almost all Nepalese governments frowning on the settlement and political meddling of populations of Indian origins in the Terai region. These groups are the cause of major political friction between the two countries. Another reason for the friction being Nepal’s periodical cosying up to the Chinse, its other big neighbour on the other side of the great wall of the Himalayas.
The Modi government’s first major betrayal after taking over for a second five-year term in May 2019 – leaving its economic fiasco aside and not focussing on its international relations – was Kashmir. Although it ran a coalition government with People’s Democratic Party for four years, it imposed President’s rule preparatory to the general elections in the state. The demographic dynamics of the then state of Jammu and Kashmir was that the BJP would never get the majority to rule the State.
The state was tied together, and with India, through Article 370, a covenant of the ascension of the state to the Union of India, and now part of the Constitution. This, in more diluted forms, is what holds the states of the North-East of India to the mainland.
The Modi government had failed miserly to convince the people of the Valley of its goodwill, and that it meant fair with them. The misuse of the armed forces, the callous disregard of human rights which led to large-scale blinding of young protestors by pellet and detentions on a large-scale, had not convinced the people that New Delhi saw them other than as a place and a people to be subjugated by use of force.
The proximity of Pakistan, the reality of terrorism – Kargil had seen large-scale infiltration of the Pakistani armed forces while the BJP government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee slept -- and the belligerency of the Pakistani Army were excuse enough. Overnight, the government split the state into two Union Territories. Kashmir and its Muslims suddenly had no role in the bulk of the landmass of the old state, and were now confined to just the Valley in the new-born Union Territory, to be monitored all the better. Or so New Delhi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi thought. The people thought otherwise. The state is still almost without universal communication, with mobile phones, internet and social gatherings still far from normal.
There the matter stands for the moment with no indication when elections will be held, when full statehood will be restored and whether, if at all, the two parts reunited to become the state Jammu and Kashmir once was. Fears are that it will remain a suppurating wound, its people poking the scars to keep alive their animosity and hostility to the regime in New Delhi.
This was the live-coal background in the extreme north when the government forced through the NRC exercise in Assam. The Citizenship exercise was carried over much of the year at great expense and causing much pain – scores of people committed suicide for fear of not being able to produce the papers to establish the identity of their parents and grandparents required to confirm their stake in India.
The issue of “foreigners” in Assam is two generations old, if not older. The various partitions of the old Bengal Presidency before independence, and the Partition of 1947, had left a large number of Bengali speaking people in the stump state of Assam after the other north eastern states had been carved out for the regional ethnic communities.
Assamese youth had launched a violent movement in the 1980s, culminating in the Assam Accord between the government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the political groups representing the various indigenous communities claiming roots in the region.
Everybody had presumed that the “foreigners” were Muslims. The BJP accused the Congress of accommodating them to bolster its vote in constituencies bordering West Bengal and Bangladesh. Even the Congress believed it. But when the NRC results were in, it was discovered that more than half of the infiltrators were Bengali Hindus.
This has Modi government caught in a cleft. The Assamese want every single Bengali speaker out of the state, whether Muslim or Hindu. But chucking the Hindu Bengalis out does not suit the motherland argument of the BJP. Modi and Shah have been forced to assure the Hindu Bengalis they will not be thrown out. To make it sound more palatable and secular, they have been forced to say that laws will be changed to ensure that Hindus, Christians and Buddhists fleeing religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be given Indian citizenship, but not the Muslims as they cannot be persecuted in a land where their religion is a majority.
While Assam burns because the government has gone back on the promise of ejecting all Bengalis, the rest of India is afire because the government is swiftly changing the goal posts, and the Constitution, to keep the pressure on Muslims, and sustain the polarising fire that lights the heart of its followers.
As the government changed the Citizenship Act – now popular by its acronym CAB or CAA [Citizenship Amendment Bill/Act] giving citizenship to refugees other than Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the protests were spontaneous.
No one was buying the government argument that this was a show of rare magnanimity which was absent elsewhere in the world. The Muslims point out that Pakistan’s government persecute Islamic sects such as Ahmadiyas with far more severity than it does Hindus, Sikhs or Christians.
The Christians point out that lakhs of Christian Tribals from Burma are seeking asylum, but they are being denied entry. Christians are, in fact, the solitary community persecuted everywhere in the South Asian region as it is not a major population elsewhere. There was big protest in Tamil Nadu because both Hindu and Christian, and of late Muslim, Tamils were being hounded by the armed forces and the Buddhist Sangh in Sri Lanka. The government has no answer.
Impromptu groups sprouted across university campuses and popular squares in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and elsewhere. They took strength from the fact that non-BJP Chief Ministers had said they would not follow NRC or NPR, and would not discriminate against Muslims.
By Christmas, the protests were nationwide, in most metropolitan cities, major university towns and industrial areas. While Muslims in large numbers took part in agitations in cities such as Delhi, Aligarh, Moradabad, their traditional strongholds, it were the local young Hindus, students, professionals, men and women who were on the road, voicing their protests. Various fact-finding groups have indicted the police and political agent provocateurs.
In most places, the protests were comparatively peaceful, though police atrocities were across the country. But there was bloodshed in Mangalore, and then in Uttar Pradesh, which currently shows no signs of returning to normal. The police in every BJP-ruled state seemed to have been given clear instructions to teach student protestors a lesson – be they in Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi or Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh.
It has been pointed out that the CAA protests are graver and have invited stronger police reprisals than the months-long Hong Kong protests: 25 have been killed in India, mostly in police firing as compared to 2 deaths reported in Hong Kong . Most of the deaths have been reported in UP. Five people succumbed to bullet injuries in Assam after the police reportedly opened fire on protesters who had taken to the streets defying Section 144, imposed in the state after Parliament passed the CAB on December 11.
On December 19, two persons died of bullet injuries in the protests in Mangalore. Eyewitnesses said the police, in large numbers, entered a hospital where injured protestors were receiving treatment. They launched tear gas within 30 metres of sick patients inside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), attempting to barge into patients’ rooms where protesters had taken refuge. Videos released by local news channels also reportedly show people who were part of a peaceful march being beaten up by the police.
While the Prime Minister didn’t express any sadness over the number of people killed in the protests, he claimed that “certain people” were creating violent situations across many cities by hurting policemen.
Home Minister Amit Shah seems unfazed. He has repeatedly promised that the NRC, made possible with a 1955 law, will be expanded to the entire country. On May 1, 2019, Shah had tweeted: “First we will pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill and ensure that all the refugees from the neighbouring nations get the Indian citizenship. After that NRC will be made and we will detect and deport every infiltrator from our motherland.” Shah has also called illegal immigrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh “termites.” He also said in Parliament that NRC would be implemented across India.
Despite these statements, the Modi government insisted this week that the CAA would not be linked with the NRC. Work seems to have begun on the project, under 2003 Citizenship Rules, to collect data on residents in India.
It is becoming impossible to separate the truth in government’s statements from the lies.
The only truth that stares citizens in the face is that India’s economic growth slowed to 4.5 percent in the three months that ended in September, the slowest rate since 2013. As economic experts have pointed out, five interest rate cuts have failed to boost investment. “With a high youth population, India needs to grow at 8 percent per year to create enough jobs for new labour force”, but economists predict the slowdown to continue for one or two years.
(Published on 06th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 01)