The urgency of bringing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) again by the BJP government and passing it soon into its second term possibly stems from the unexpected outcome of the NRC in Assam for the government.
The process to update the register began following a Supreme Court order in December 2013, with the state’s nearly 33 million people having to prove that they were Indian nationals prior to March 24, 1971. A total of 3.29 crore people had applied for inclusion in the NRC. While nearly 41 lakh people were left out of the complete draft published on July 30, 2018, the names of 19, 06,657 people were not included in the updated final NRC which was published under the Supreme Court’s watch on 31 August 2019.
The BJP had hoped that the Muslims of East Bengal origin would be excluded in large numbers. However, it has been widely reported that out of the 19 lakh people excluded from the NRC in Assam, as many as 14 lakh are non-Muslims and persons from indigenous groups. This came as a complete surprise for the BJP. This was evident from the statement of cabinet minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma who announced that the final results were unacceptable to the state government. He said: “The NRC has names of people which should not be in it and has left out names of people which should have been in it”.Thus came the CAA into the picture whose provisions would mean that all those excluded from the NRC- except the Muslims- would not be rendered stateless if they are able to provide admissible documentation.
Secondly, the ideological justification for bringing CAA and a pan-India NRC stems from the larger Hindutva agenda and the vision of a Hindu Rashtra espoused by the RSS/BJP. This vision has its linkages with the Hitlerite fascism and Zionist movement of Israel. The CAA-NRC combine is a reflection of the citizenship law passed by Nazi Germany in 1939 and the ‘nation-state’ law passed by Israel in 2018.
The theory of India as a ‘Hindu nation’ propounded by the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, M S Golwalkar, was one where other religious communities would have no rights of citizenship. By distorting both history and science and relying on the experience of Hitlerite fascism, Golwalkar in his We or Our Nationhood defined tried to establish that India was always a Hindu nation and continues to be one.He wrote: “All those not belonging to the national, i.e., Hindu Race, Religion, Culture and Language naturally fall out of the pale of real ‘National’ life” (p. 99).He added: “All those, who fall out, can have no place in the national life, unless they abandon their differences, adopt the religion, culture and language of the Nation and completely merge themselves in the National Race. So long, however, as they maintain their racial, religious and cultural differences, they cannot but be only foreigners, who may be either friendly or inimical to the Nation” (p.101). As for citizenship rights for the minorities that have “chosen to live in this country”, Golwalkar declares, “the foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment -not even citizen’s rights.” (p. 105).
Like Golwalkar, V D Savarkar- who coined the term ‘Hindutva’- too echoed a similar sentiment and held that the only people who qualified as Indians were those whose birth and faith originate in India. Creation of a concept of ‘internal enemy’ was fundamental to both Golwalkar and Savarkar. Both admired Adolf Hitler for his treatment of the Jews. Golwalkar wrote: “Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by” (Golwalkar 1939: 88). Savarkar publicly criticised the Jews for failing to absorb into the German national fabric and compared them to Muslims in India. He delivered several speeches in the late 1930s supporting Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy (Cazolari 2000). Archival research of Cazolari (2000) has shown that Hindutva leaders in the 1930s repeatedly expressed their admiration for authoritarian leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler and for the fascist model of society. This influence continues to the present day.
It must be remembered that the Reich Citizenship Law, part of the Nuremberg Laws passed by the Nazi Germany on 15 September 1935, declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens. The remainder were classed as state subjects without any political or citizenship rights.The status of a citizen was acquired by the granting of citizenship papers by the government of the Third Reich and it saw people scrambling to government offices and churches in order to establish their relationship with German (Christian) grandparents. The passing of the Nuremberg Laws is known to mark the beginning of the series of events now known as the ‘holocaust’.
Not only European fascism, but Hindutva icons V D Savarkar and M S Golwalkar as well as the BJP have been known to profess a deep affinity for Israel’s Zionist movement. This seems ironical because both Savarkar and Golwalkar were in awe of Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews. But in this case Jewish and Zionist hegemony and the structural subordination of the Arab minority is what the Hindutva brigade looks up to as inspiration. The argument that the CAA re-imagines India on the lines of Israel is buttressed if we look at the provisions of Israel’s ‘nation state’ law passed by its Parliament in July 2018. The law states that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to self-determination in it”. It establishes Hebrew as Israel’s official language, and strips Arabic of its national language status. It also establishes “Jewish settlement as a national value”.
In sum, it is a racist and undemocratic law and undermines the country’s Arab minority. Israel’s treatment of Arabs in Israel as well as in Palestine (subjecting them to an extreme, genocidal form of apartheid) is the model that the Hindutva brigade would like to adopt for India’s minorities in its vision of a Hindu Nation.
Pan-India NRC and CAA: A deeper problem
With the recent announcement of Home Minister Amit Shah in the Parliament for a pan-India NRC, CAA cannot be seen in isolation from the NRC. In his discussion on migration and citizenship, Harris (2010) has written that the ‘identity card’ has been an important and a recurring feature in regimes with authoritarian tendencies. Likewise, the NRC experience in Assam is reflective of how the costs of state policies are disproportionately borne by the poorest segments of the population. The periodic violence of exclusion of certain communities only seeks to establish a parochial-identitarian conception of citizenship; a conception that not only defies a modern and universally accepted notion of citizenship and the nation-state, but that which is also defined by an exclusivist Hindutva political project espoused by the current ruling party. The narrative of the “illegal immigrant,” particularly from Bangladesh, is rooted in the RSS’s aspirations for ‘Akhand Bharat’ (unified India) pronounced by the racial underpinnings of Hindutva ideology. The construction of the “other” draws upon Sangh Parivar’s attempts to first consolidate the territorial space of Akhand Bharat, and then to “cleanse” the space of the “other” (Mehta 2018). Hence, the construction of the recalcitrant “other” and the burden of proving one’s “Indianness” has been the bedrock of both the NRC and the CAA in different ways. Both these exercises have also been instrumental in igniting nationalisms of various hues and in varying degrees.
The NRC, a legally supported procedure, was not simply an administrative exercise that aimed at determining who qualified to be a genuine citizen in Assam, but its intent and consequences were deeper. By tapping into the sublime notion of the Bangladeshi as the “other”, the BJP wielded the NRC card triumphantly in Assam to augment the latent reserve of emotions of angst and hatred against the “outsider”. This was achieved by repeatedly constructing Muslim immigrants as the regressive “other” or the “infiltrator” posing a threat to the existential notion of the nation-state at large and development, particularly in Assam. Of mention here is that it is the implementation of Assam NRC model that emboldened the government’s current project of emulating the same exercise across the country.
At the outset, both CAA and NRC when read together appear discriminatory towards Muslims alone because all non-Muslims excluded from an all-India NRC would get the cushion of CAA. However, the complexity of the problem is much deeper. While the new law in principle intends to award citizenship rather than take it from anyone as the Central government claims, in practice the administrative and bureaucratic procedures of the foreigner determination process is much more complex and difficult than it is simplistically read and understood. As per the new law, the CAA is set to accept as citizens all those stateless people who are of different religious distinctions (except Islam) and have fled to India from the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
However, all those who might get excluded from the all-India NRC rolls would be required to provide ‘burden of proof’ before a Foreigner’s Tribunal, irrespective of religious affiliations and their citizenship will then be recognized if they fall within the purview of the new law. Such an exercise would cost heavily to the poor (across religions) because the ‘burden’ of producing valid documents and proving one’s ‘Indianness’ would fall on the landless, homeless, tribal people and other marginalised groups. The NRC process in Assam that led to widespread misery, anxiety and panic amongst such sections of population is being set to be replicated nation-wide.