Politics has become more of theatrics today than an activity or profession aimed at bettering the lives of those ruled. Ahead of dwelling upon the subject that is ruling national headlines today, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, let’s first talk about the ongoing political theatrics that is refusing to die. And this is important since much of the protests against the ruling government are political alone, with no regard to good and effective governance. While it is true that conflict of opinion must always remain the cornerstone of any democracy, using this tool as a means of halting the progress of the country is equally condemnable and unpardonable. Take the Rafale protests by the opposition, led by the Congress party, for instance. It was used by the entire opposition to corner BJP in general elections. It came to an end with the BJP’s decisive win in the polls and recent verdict of the Supreme Court.
One has to view the ongoing criticism of CAB by the Congress in the same light. After all, politics is as much about making news as it is about good governance. And here come the protests targeted at the Citizenship Amendment Bill introduced in the house by the Home Minister. Yes, there is a pretext too. The bill excludes the illegal migrants from Muslim faith from acquiring Indian citizenship and bestows this opportunity to only members from Hindu, Christian, Jain and other faiths as mentioned in the bill. So they have it. What else did the opposition need? The ‘majoritarian politics’ of the BJP is dividing the nation into religious lines and this rhetoric has been perfectly pitched by prominent leaders in their tweets and TV interviews.
But wait. Are they sure? Is the exclusion of a particular faith from the bill really unconstitutional? Does it defeat Article 14 of our constitution and destroy the secular fabric of the country? These questions can be best answered when we take politics out of the picture for a moment and consider facts as they are. And the facts aren’t complex. The three countries mentioned in the bill—Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan—are Muslim-majority nations and it is a well-documented fact that non-Muslim members of the community are not only persecuted on the basis of their faith but are also deprived of even basic necessities of life. Prior to debate this, let’s also consider the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, who was accused of blasphemy by the Muslim community and was sentenced to death by the local court. Those who spoke in her favour, including a member of Pakistan’s parliament and the Governor of Punjab, were killed mercilessly by the orthodox followers of the faith. But in the end, and we must all appreciate this, Asia Bibi was saved from the gallows, thanks to the international uproar by prominent politicians and NGOs. Not only was the Supreme Court of Pakistan compelled to reverse the conviction, but Asia Bibi was also safely moved to Canada in May this year.
But why talk about Asia Bibi and what is it that relates her to the ongoing controversy over the Citizenship Amendment Bill? The critics of the Bill have raised the point that some of the Muslim religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyas of Pakistan and Rohingya of Myanmar, face persecution in their countries and hence, granting the right to acquire Indian citizenship to only non-Muslim migrants is not a fair deal. But what about the West’s support to Asia Bibi? Can we not say that the unprecedented support of her cause and the refuge offered to her by many European countries would not have come had she not belonged to the Christian faith? But even this argument in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Bill may not be completely reasonable. And the defect it holds has been well corrected by the Bill. Not Hindus alone, the faith that has a majority in India, members of other minority communities can stake claim over rights to Indian citizens through the amendment brought by the Government. One part settled then- that the bill is not anti-minority. Let’s take the other issue now.
India, as they say, is a secular country. But the fact is that India is a secular country, irrespective of their using this cornerstone of Indian democracy as a tool for furthering their own political interests. Not even a single policy of the present government gives any sort of preferences to members of the majority faith over Indian Muslims. In the past five years, with the government that has such unprecedented and overwhelming public support, not a single policy action has been on communal lines. The opposition, thus, is frustrated. What if they haven’t done anything against the Muslims, the Citizenship Amendment Bill is in favour of ‘others’ and why not use this as an opportunity to decry the ‘ulterior motive’ of the ruling dispensation? And this is exactly what has happened. The Congress and other parties, which consider the Muslim community nothing more than mere vote bank, have declared themselves as the saviours of Indian Constitution. The right to equality, as enshrined in the Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution, is under threat, they say. Is it true? It may be if the answers to these questions aren’t in affirmative. Are non-Muslims not persecuted in the countries mentioned in the Bill? Is it not the responsibility of the Indian government to speed up the process of acquiring citizenship by those who migrated not for economic reasons but owing to persecution on religious grounds?
Indeed, the Indian government cannot be selective in its approach. But there is also a word, ‘pragmatism’, and another ‘rationalism’. Both these terms hold importance in public administration and this is the reason why the countries in the West cannot deal with all cases of persecution in Pakistan in the same way as they did with the Asia Bibi case. Rationalism, it is. And while rationalism is a positive thing, it cannot be resorted to if the underlying intention is negative. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is a positive action for those who really deserve the benefits as are mentioned in there. At the same time, there is nothing negative in it. Consider this in the light that we have always been a state where affirmative action is in place for depressed communities. After all, they were a deserving class for such affirmative action and the constitution or any amendment to it cannot come in the way of this. Citizenship Amendment Bill is, more or less, the same sort of affirmative action. Let’s take the politics out and read the Bill in light of rationalism, good governance and equity.
(The writer is a columnist)