The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
When we do not use the constitutional devices made available to us and begin to disrupt our own society to get what we want, in my opinion, there can be arguably two chief driving forces – first, we have lost all faith in our judiciary. After all, just a few days back, a lot amongst us wanted the men accused in Hyderabad rape case to be lynched in a public spectacle and a large part of the country celebrated when they were killed in a police encounter. The defenders of the law are still having a hard time explaining what was wrong in such an act by the police. When you hear Nirbhaya’s mother speaking about her wait for justice for the last 7 years with one ‘juvenile’ already walking free, there is not much left to defend about the systems that were designed for justice but have almost become impediments to the same. Like any other pillar of democracy, our judiciary has become a prisoner of its own laws.
However, a large majority still fights with its self-doubts and conflicts with the system to rush to the court when needed. There is a reason that we have more than 3 crores cases pending in our courts. In absence of faith, most of these citizens involved in litigation would have become vigilantes themselves. This brings us to the second force – a lot amongst us do not believe in the institutions of the country, including the judiciary. So, when we are not busy fortifying our beliefs or absence thereof, we take to the streets to bring theory into practice. This set holds the constitution holy in public and burns it with the other hand in private and when provided with an opportunity to be their private self in public, they burn the constitution in public too. They are the ones who have carried out the so called ‘hijacking’ of the Citizenship Amendment Bill/Citizenship Amendment Act protests.
Hijacking of protests is not a new phenomenon. When you venture out to protest on the streets through your voice or your pen, you must begin with the assumption that there will be attempts to hijack your movement. If you don’t start with this understanding, your movement will be corrupted in no time. Now, if you do have that understanding, it is also incumbent upon you to prevent it from happening. However, if you consciously want your protests to be hijacked so that it becomes viral and you can extract a career out of it, you are not solving any problem. You are the problem.
The Question of Group Identification
A lot of people, including most of the media agencies, have betrayed their ignorance in the last week. There are individuals who have claimed that India does not share a border with Afghanistan, many have claimed that they live in India and not Bharat (ignorant about the adoption of the name Bharat in our constitution). There are individuals who have confidently tried to fact-check people who have been using the term ‘CAA’ instead of CAB after the bill was passed in the parliament. Then, there were people who took a week to understand that they cannot support the anti-immigration protests of Assam and the inclusion of Muslims in the Citizenship Amendment Act at the same time. Such people ranged from a few lazy but opinionated people, a few celebrities and their followers, a few small-time opinion makers on social media to some high and mighty so called intellectuals of the country and abroad. That such ignorance could be displayed with such confidence without even a reluctant look at our country’s history, geography, official documents, and most importantly our constitution, has amply proved that Indians don’t like details, we hate to read, we hate to understand our surroundings, and we absolutely abhor being questioned. Ignorance is not the greatest sin, believing that ignorance-is-bliss is.
Between being ignorant and believing that ignorance-is-bliss, lies a greater folly – the desire to play ignorant for the optics. This happens when you know what you are saying is wrong but it sounds politically correct and you can get claps for it, so, you go on to say it anyway.
When presented with a question – If you had the option to take liberties with some facts and crack a really funny joke or being accurate with the facts and risk dishing out a bland one or no joke at all, which one would you choose? A populist choice makes you dishonest. An honest choice makes you less popular or even unpopular. Many intellectuals in our country however, choose the first option and divide the society into groups that carry one chief value that they decide to label them with. So, if a woman slanders you and you slander her back, they will come at you saying things like ‘how could you talk to a woman like that’ because even when they know that the woman in question is an individual first and the response to her was in her individual capacity irrespective of her gender; for these people, using the gender crutch helps them project themselves as feminists and also perhaps agreeable to a lot of people.
One such oversimplified group in question in the ongoing protests is ‘students’. You will be hearing a plethora of generalizations flying across from both the warring sides – “these students are anti-national”, “a student doesn’t burn buses”, “JNU students are enemies of the nation”, “students like to study”. The absurdity of the arguments have reached such incredible heights that it appears that students are aliens whom most of us do not know and a few of us know too well. A student can be anything – nationalist, anti-national, sub-nationalist, ethno-linguistic fanatic, fascist, communist, sexist, homophobe, islamophobe, xenophobe, or even a terrorist. When the BHU protests happened over the appointment of a Muslim scholar and professor to teach Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vigyan, students were called out as bigots. A student can burn buses, another can douse the fire. A student may not want to study, a student may only want to study and do no politics. Being a student is not a qualification for righteousness. Depending on their life choices, it might prove to be the path to it. So, it would be a pragmatic thing to stop enjoying and promoting such oversimplifications.
While group identification is necessary for administrative purposes, our society (including the government and law enforcement agencies) will do itself a great good to stop assigning moralistic and ethical values to these groups. They can only be assigned to individuals irrespective of the group he or the government thinks he belongs to.
The Question of CAA
The major protest to the bill came from Assam where certain groups want all illegal immigrants identified and sent back. Other groups in other parts of the country took the cue but changed the message and objective. They successfully carried out the pejoration of the Assam protests and went public with all their prejudices and politics. The issue was quickly turned into a Hindu-Muslim question and concerns were raised about the exclusion of Muslims. In that sense, this was the complete opposite of what the indigenous Assamese wanted. If you change a few variables like the party in power or the state in question (say, Maharashtra), the same set of people would have attacked the agitators for ‘complete exclusion’ for being xenophobic and fascists. So, instead of doing any good, the political protests across the country (more specifically Bengal) have in effect diluted the protests in Assam and when there should have been a rigorous debate over the process of identification, implementation, and impact on the Assam demographics, we got brute-braked on the usual Hindu-Muslim speed-breaker.
The group in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Act is happy with its current form and a few among them also want Sri Lankan Tamils, Atheists, and Apostates to be included. If India were to be morally one, then, only one of these sets is right and everyone else is wrong. But that is not true. Every region has its own problem and a state like Assam has a lot more than those which do not share a porous border internationally. So, the moral question changes with our vantage point. Kashmir has a different moral question than New Delhi and hence the same moral compass can’t be applied to the entire country. Then come the existential questions. Can we allow the migration to take place to an extent that the very purpose of migration is lost? That’s the question Assam is battling right now. On the technical aspect, everyone seems to be having a strong case, hence, I will be keenly following the court proceedings to be held in January 2020. The questions I will be looking for answers to are –
- The Act does not mention the term ‘Religious Persecution’ but only minority religions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. These two terms do not mean the same thing. So, what exactly is the basis of the amendment – ‘minority-status’ or ‘religious persecution’?
- If the basis is ‘minority-status’, then why have Jews, Atheists, and Apostates not been included?
- If the basis is ‘religious-persecution’, how will the government ensure that all Pakistani Hindus in India claiming citizenship have been persecuted on religious grounds?
- Mr. Amit Shah has mentioned in his Rajya Sabha speech that the bill will bring relief to lakhs (sometimes crores) of people. According to our Intelligence Bureau, “a total of 31,313 persons belonging to minority communities, including “25,447 Hindu, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, 2 Buddhists and 2 Parsis” will be immediate beneficiaries of the amended Citizenship Act”. Which number is correct?
- Will CAA be used to grant citizenship to people who have not found their names on the NRC list? If no, then how will the act bring relief to lakhs of people? If yes, then how will religious persecution be determined?
- Since, the persecution clause itself is not mentioned in the act, will it not become just an optional check for the government?
- One of the points supporting the amended act says that Muslims can still apply for citizenship using the preexisting channels. However, that is true for other minorities too. So, why the new amendment?
- How will the government prevent the evergreen bureaucratic lethargy and corruption of our country playing a role in this exercise and implementation?
- What is government’s defence for the Kargil veteran not finding his name on the NRC? How will such cases be avoided in the future?
The Question of Our Neighbours
What is the reason that a secular state like India is surrounded by theocratic states that prioritise one religion over others? If we are hopeful of solving all our domestic problems while they remain theocratic, we are set on a fool’s errand. Of all the geopolitical realities of South Asia, this is perhaps our biggest failing. When a Hindu nation (Nepal) can become a secular state and the world can welcome it, what is inspiring our neighbours to remain Islamic in nature? Why are the secular forces in these countries not able to effect a constitutional change or escalate their agenda into a mass movement? Perhaps, mass movement is not the answer. When the government swears by a particular religion, raising a voice in protest becomes blasphemy. So, either the leaders of South Asia can sit down and have a conversation on the subject or we would have to wait for a popular government that sees secularism as an aspirational value to adopt. Even though Indian constitution valued secularism without declaring India a secular state, the process of officially becoming a secular state was a top-down action when the Indira Gandhi government brought the forty-second amendment. Do our neighbours have the necessary political will to effect such a thing?
The Moral Question
On the moral dilemma, what is more humanitarian, to shelter a few (minority who have been persecuted consistently according to reports from reputed organisations) or shelter none? Who is to be given a safe home, the persecuted or the persecutor? Should the act then be seen as a great humanitarian step that not many nations are ready to take? It is interesting to note that the act includes Christians too. The BJP has been accused of being against the Christians in the past and will be accused again even if a bird poops on any church in this country. But then, while religious persecution is a reality in our neighbouring countries, can groups alone define who is persecuted and who is not? Could there be only one Muslim who would have escaped and entered India because of his sectarian differences or apostatic persecution? Will it be moral to send that one person back? What details must this person furnish to prove religious persecution? What are the safeguards our government has put for such people? These are relevant questions, so I would suggest you to keep away from people who are straitjacketing this issue into Hindu versus Muslims battle. While people are throwing up on social media because they are habituated to, very few have seriously considered all aspects and tried to find answers. Fewer have even gone on to read the bill in detail to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Lazy citizens do not bring revolution. They just bring misinformation and a resultant bloody violence, upon others and in the end, upon themselves.
Three Warnings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
In Indian newsrooms and public discourse, there are people who use Mahatma Gandhi’s name whenever they can’t make their own point. “Gandhi said this, how can you go against our Bapu”, is the favourite catchphrase of such lazy intellectuals. Since, they swear by Gandhiji’s name, I am sure they know why the Non-Cooperation movement was withdrawn. Using their favourite rhetoric, I can confidently say that Gandhi would have withdrawn from the so called anti-CAB movement at the first sign of violence. Invoking Gandhi is a hogwash most of the times – just a thorn to take out the existing thorn. Once, the existing thorn is removed, the Gandhi thorn will be thrown away without a care.
On the other side, if one is to believe that the BJP and our Prime Minister have nothing to gain from the Hindu-Muslim polarisation, it would be repeating the mistake. Mr. Modi lost the moral battle the day he referred to the clothes of the protestors during one of his speeches in Jharkhand. So, now we have one side referring to saffron colour to identify the criminal and other side referring to skullcaps and kurtas to know the criminal. In doing so and not able to see the problem, we have already ignored the 2nd warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (another utility thorn of our lazy intellectuals, always discarded once the point has been made)-
The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
The focal points of power must be checked. Government, political parties, media, academia must be asked questions when they want to remain unquestioned and unaccountable. Anarchy is not the answer. Anarchy is nothing but dictatorship at the level of an individual. Soon enough, power centres more devious than what we set out to demolish will rise again. Democracy is still the best solution we have in our hands and a strong democracy needs an opposition with a spine. That is partly our misfortune and partly our own doing. The present opposition doesn’t inspire confidence. The arsonists can never make a good opposition.
I should put out a disclosure here. The first paragraph in this article is the first warning of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Please read it again if you did not pay enough attention for the first time. As the Nirbhaya rape convicts have their review petition rejected, Kuldip Sengar stands convicted of rape, CBI gets yet another thrashing by the court, and the court decides to hear petitions regarding the CAA in January 2020, I would still like to believe that our judiciary keeps showing signs of life every now and then. In the absence of an intelligent opposition, the judiciary of our country has been holding better and much more informed debates on matters important to us and just by doing that, it gains the right to become our first resort to justice, of course, only if we believe in our democracy and our ability to plug the existing holes. Otherwise, individual and group dictatorships are already exhibiting their designs on the streets. Decide.