CAA: Thin end of the wedge

CAA first breach in constitutional order guaranteeing “Equality”

With the announcement of dates for the coming general elections, the ruling establishment has suddenly found the courage to notify rules for the implementation of the nearly five-year old Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 [CAA], which had drawn the ire of the women of Shaheen Bagh and led to months-long demonstrations in Delhi, replicated all over the country, forcing the Modi government to back off from implementing it. By notifying the CAA rules on election eve, Amit Shah’s ministry has sought to overcome the setback they suffered in the winter of 2019/2020 when through prolonged day-and-night-long demonstrations in the bitter cold by poor, neglected, non-political Muslim women anchored themselves to the Preamble of the Constitution (and not the Holy Quran or the sharia) to point to the incompatibility of the CAA with India’s constitutional order. It was a brilliant strategic move that left the home ministry gasping as it challenged the standard construct of the demonstration as an Islamic movement with sectarian religious overtones. It was only the outbreak of the pandemic in mid-March 2020 that gave Shah’s ministry the opportunity to catch their breath.

The CAA was immediately contested in the Supreme Court which, after a long wait of close to half a decade on a crucial constitutional matter, has at last indicated its readiness to take up over 200 petitions that have been filed before it. And even as the issue becomes sub judice, the Modi government has notified the rules in flagrant disregard of constitutional propriety. In one reckoning, by breaking the nexus between the CAA and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) the government has negatived the apprehension of the minorities that the CAA is but a preliminary step to bringing religious compartmentalisation into our constitutional jurisprudence by explicitly excluding Muslim refugees from our neighbouring countries in an Indian law to open the constitutional path to rendering Indian Muslims as second-class citizens of our country. I do not think the independent women protestors of Shaheen Bagh are so naïve as to imagine that notifying the CAA rules before operationalising NRC amounts to removing the Indian Muslim minority from the crosshairs of this government. The overarching saffron goal remains to render Muslims as frightened hordes living on sufferance and dominated by the Hindu majority.

Illustration: Job P.K. Illustration: Job P.K.

This is not an issue that concerns only Indian Muslims. It concerns all of us as the CAA is the first breach in a constitutional order guaranteeing “Equality”—the pledge in the Preamble—to all irrespective of religion, and the guarantee of “equal protection before the law” to “all persons” (not only “citizens”) residing “within the territory of India” (Article 14: Part III, Fundamental Rights).

Ironically, the principal contemporary humanitarian problem in our region is not the persecution of non-Muslims by the Muslim regimes of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh (the three countries covered by the CAA) but of Muslims in their own countries at the hands of both non-Islamic and Islamic regimes. The most looming of these issues are the Rohingya Muslims suffering genocidal murder and mayhem at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist rulers; Muslim minorities (Shia, Hazara, Ahmadiyya) battling jihadi Sunni Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and Uighur Muslims threatened with cultural genocide in avowedly atheistic communist China. Besides, Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindu, Christian, Muslim) facing Buddhist racio-religious extremism in confrontation with dominant elements of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. If the CAA were really being driven by the humanitarian call of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, it would have addressed itself to these persecuted minorities.

Instead, the CAA picks on a virtual non-issue only to propagate its hindutva political agenda and add to its hindutva vote-bank in an election year. What cynical, opportunistic hypocrisy!

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.