The Indian economy is tanking under Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule. The promise of creating 12 million new jobs annually for people entering the market is fast receding. The Modi regime has thus resorted to a dangerous policy of religious and ethnic discrimination to divert attention from its failed policies. But it is not merely a diversionary tactic. It targets India’s 200 million Muslim citizens. Modi has a pathological hatred of Muslims, having honed his anti-Muslim skills while he was chief minister of Gujrat state before he became prime minister in 2014.
Two instruments are being used: The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). India’s Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the bills in parliament at the end of December 2019. He said the BJP government will pass the Citizenship Amendment Act. The bill seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Buddhists — who have come illegally to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan — but excludes Muslims. This is a drastic change in the Citizenship Act of 1955 that does not define citizenship on the basis of religion.
The NRC, originally confined to Assam in the northeast, is now being applied to the whole of India. In Assam, the state that borders Bangladesh, there was widespread belief that illegal immigrants had come from Bangladesh. They should be identified and deported. The NRC idea emerged in the wake of the Assam Accord of 1985 that ended a separatist insurgency that had raged during the 1970s and 1980s. On August 31, 2019, Assam’s NRC was published declaring 1.9 million people stateless, a far cry from the tens of millions alleged illegals bandied about earlier. These people have no documents to prove their Indian citizenship. Internment camps have been set up; others are being built.
In a country of 1.2 billion people, most of them rural dwellers, the notion of birth certificate or identity card is alien. Coupled with the ubiquitous caste system that divides people along caste lines — a form of religious apartheid — the vast majority of people are already disenfranchised. Launching a campaign against Muslims is another nail in the coffin of India’s self-proclaimed secularism and the constitution.
There is, however, pushback, especially from students who have braved attacks from RSS thugs as well as the police. The students have transcended religious and caste boundaries and have stood shoulder to shoulder to defend fundamental rights. Their activism has attracted other civil society groups including members of the Bollywood fraternity that had previously cozied up to Modi.
Student activism to defend their fundamental rights has exacted a price. At least 20 students have been killed and hundreds injured in attacks by BJP-affiliated masked thugs armed with sticks, iron rods, and acid bottles. Protests started at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on December 13 and then spread to Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI). The police barged into the university campus on December 15 and attacked students as well as vandalized the library. When news of the attack on JMI spread, students at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Ambedkar University also joined the protests. These have now assumed a life of their own. They are ongoing and despite attacks by the police injuring and arresting hundreds of students, they are held on a daily basis.
JMI has become the hub of student activism. Interestingly, this is spearheaded by female Muslim students. While the Modi regime has vowed to press on with implementing the divisive CAA and NRC bills, a number of states in India have said they would not participate in the registration process. This is a hopeful sign and may yet dissuade the fascists from pressing ahead full force with their nefarious agenda. Unfortunately, given corruption in the judiciary (as witnessed in the Babri Masjid verdict), the police, and the bureaucracy, it would be unrealistic to repose too much hope in the movement for sanity. What is more likely is that internal and external pressure may force a delay in the implementation of these divisive laws.
If the movement can be sustained until the next election due in 2024, the BJP can be consigned to the dustbin of history. It is a long struggle and will not be easy but with continuing strikes, the economy will suffer greater blows turning more people against the Modi regime and his fascist storm troopers.