Ideology, not votes, led Modi and Shah to CAA (Sunday Guardian)
By M D Nalapat
CAA amid tension-filled period of economic slowdown proves their goodwill.
Judging by the energetic manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have defended the Citizenship Amendment Act, it seems that both feel deeply about the plight of religious minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. So substantial is their concern that they have together pushed through legislation intended to provide smooth and expeditious passage towards citizenship for millions of non-Muslims living in the three self-described “Islamic” countries. In effect, such individuals have been given the “Right of Return” to India as full citizens, much as those belonging to the Jewish faith have the automatic right to become citizens of Israel. This, after all, is a land where a 1971 cut-off point for acceptance of refugees morphs to 2014 and surely will later to an even more distant date. While the CAA is intended to confer fast-track citizenship on those individuals who are persecuted for belonging to minority faiths in the three Muslim-majority countries named, the only proof asked for that they are being persecuted and are not migrating to India for other reasons is their own word. This is in contrast to mostly Muslim asylum seekers in Europe or the US, who have to undergo a lengthy process designed to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that they are indeed being persecuted, and are not simply economic migrants. An exception, of course, was German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to admit an eventual two million such migrants into Germany. Both Prime Minister Modi as well as Home Minister Shah have a suite of IAS, IFS and IPS officers briefing them on various matters, and as in the case of the unanimous approval given within the ranks of high officials to the 2016 demonetisation and the 2017 rollout of the Indian version of GST, it is certain that opinion within this power-packed and talented fraternity must have been unanimously favourable on the immediate ensuring of citizenship to those from the minority communities in the three Muslim-majority countries mentioned. A few within the IFS or IPS may have pointed out that a section of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, both neighbours of India, have been less than friendly to Hindus, Muslims and Christians within these two countries, and that as a consequence, several non-Buddhists in these two countries have already made their way to India, and must be now disappointed that only nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been assured of a citizenship fast track. Maybe an IFS official opined that a legislation explicitly singling out only three Muslim-majority countries by the CAA may create tensions in the relationship between India and not just the three countries enumerated in the legislation but other Muslim-majority states as well, in some of which several million citizens of India have for long found gainful work. Together, the panoply of skills within the IAS, IFS and IPS is enormous, and such matters would almost certainly have been considered and discussed at length before the decision of the PM and the HM to go forward with the CAB (turned CAA) was taken. When then Chief Minister Modi fought his first election (to the state Assembly from Rajkot in 2002), a substantial number of Muslims voted for him and more than a few continued to support him thereafter, despite a barrage of subsequent attacks in the media accusing Modi of being sectarian. His recently passed Triple Talaq law ought to have had a provision leaving it to the spouse as to decide whether or not to send an errant husband to jail, rather than leave such an immense power in the hands of the police. Despite the absence of such a condition, the measure was welcomed by many within the Muslim community. Likewise, the removal of the Two Nation caveat (Article 370) from the statute books ensured that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh finally got treated the same as other states and union territories, rather than remain segregated the way they ware since the senseless ceasefire of 1 January 1949. But for the treachery of the British officers still dominating the Indian Army, the whole of Kashmir would have come under the control of India by the close of 1948, as most recently elucidated by Malhotra and Raza in their book on the subject.
The load placed on a human being that will be borne without complaint is a function of health. The healthier the individual, the greater the load that can cheerfully be borne. In India, only IAS officers are considered by the political class to understand domestic policy, only IPS officers matters of security, and only IFS officers the finer points of foreign policy. This is a tradition that has been continued even by Prime Minister Modi. The IAS, IPS and IAS officials who daily advise the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India must be aware of the fact that tens of millions across the country are feeling the effects of a halving of the annual rate of GDP growth within a little over three years. There is a palpable fear within large swathes of the working population of soon being unemployed. Such fears are rife these days among those who work for enterprises that are being dragged towards closure because of the effects of over-regulation and over-taxation, and this is leading to a sharp fall in consumer spending. Were the economy to have been a bright spot rather than an area of concern, it is likely that the passage of the CAA may not have generated the kind of negative attention that it has among sections of the population. While Muslims are unhappy that their co-religionists in three neighbouring countries seem to have been singled out for exclusion by the enactment, those Hindu, Sikh and Christian citizens who are facing dismal economic headwinds may be pardoned for not feeling the same concern that the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have for those minorities who have been persecuted in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is true that all three CAA target countries have been witnessing a steady shrinking of the proportion of the population that is non-Muslim, a fact ignored thus far by Arundhati Roy. However, it may be a bit fanciful to expect Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, whose economic conditions have worsened in recent years, to welcome as citizens millions who would immediately compete with them for the less than adequate jobs and resources of what is still a poor country. Also, the CAA will encourage Wahhabi fanatics in the three countries named in the legislation to intensify their efforts to expel whatever minorities are left in their respective countries. What would have been better welcomed by existing citizens of India would have been active measures taken by the Modi government to ensure that minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh be treated well, so that most of those who fled to India could return in safety to their own countries. Any spike in migration into a country where there is substantial unemployment and under-employment is unlikely to win votes, at least among those who are in economic distress. Encouragement of immigration into a country is seldom a vote getter, which is why the US and Europe have been so reluctant to open their borders even to the millions of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and in parts of Africa, despite almost all European and US leaders wearing their fealty to the Christian faith on their sleeves.
Diplomatic blowback by Muslim-majority countries and on the countries in Europe and North America always looking to appear as champions of the Muslims; a sense of being singled out among the overwhelmingly moderate Muslim community in India; worry among Hindus, Christians and Sikhs that new CAA-enabled citizens will take away jobs and benefits from them. The IAS, IFS and IPS officials who together form both the Brains Trust as well as the Implementing Mechanism of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah must have apprised the two most powerful men in India in detail about such realities. The fact that both Modi and Shah nevertheless went ahead with the CAB (later the CAA) in this tension-filled period of economic slowdown indicates that more than votes, what counts for PM Modi and HM Shah is ideology.