CAB will take the country backwards

 I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed.

Published: 12th December 2019 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th December 2019 08:09 AM   |  A+A-

amit bandre

 I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” — Mahatma Gandhi
More than the enactment of Gandhi’s assassination in Meerut, or the praise of Nathuram Godse in Parliament by an MP who faces terror charges, it’s the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha that has destroyed the legacy of the Father of the Nation. Indeed, this Bill goes against the very spirit of our freedom struggle led by him.

Every student learns that India has always welcomed settlers from outside, and the resultant mix of cultures has been its strength. In one of our most popular national songs, Iqbal describes the caravans that had settled on the banks of the Ganga. That generosity of spirit, which made Hindustan “Saare jahaan se accha”, is being sought to be undone now by a party that never shared this view of our country.  

Hindutva organisations have always been obsessed with the unfinished agenda of Partition, i.e., a complete exchange of populations that would have made India a Hindu rashtra and Pakistan an Islamic nation. That didn’t happen even in Pakistan. In India, it could never happen, not only because of the sheer numerical and geographical scale and therefore diversity of the Muslim population, but also because of the reassuring and towering presence of Gandhi, Nehru and Azad. 

Just how small in stature are those who rule us today became clear when the Union home minister shouted angrily that there would have been no need to introduce the CAB had “the Congress not partitioned the country on the basis of religion”. Amit Shah didn’t even mention the real architects of the Partition. That shouldn’t surprise us, given the role of Hindutva organisations in the Independence movement, nor should the jubilation of BJP MPs, who were jumping with joy at this factually incorrect statement.

The CAB debate in Parliament was ugly. One wonders whether any other home minister has criticised the special protection to Muslims afforded by the Constitution as being inconsistent with Article 14, which guarantees equal protection of the law to all.A categorical assertion was made that minorities in theocracies, specifically our three Islamic neighbours, cannot by definition be treated well. The assumption behind that statement is that minorities in secular countries (like India) would be treated well. But by passing the CAB, Parliament automatically negates India’s secular character.

This doesn’t seem to have bothered Nitish Kumar. By supporting the CAB, the self-proclaimed Lohiaite betrayed both Lohia and his other mentor, Jayaprakash Narayan, under whose leadership the Bihar CM’s political career began. A similar betrayal was committed by the Shiromani Akali Dal. Guru Nanak’s closest companion was Bhai Mardana; Hazrat Mian Mir laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple; and Baba Farid’s verses are part of the Guru Granth Sahib. Indeed, in recent years, Sikhs have been among the first to help communities in distress, be they the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, Syrian refugees in Turkey, or at home, Kashmiri students stranded after the reading down of Article 370. The current acting Akal Takht jathedar led Mumbai’s historic Eid-e-Milad procession last year. 

Sukhbir Singh Badal expressed the wish that Muslims should have been included in the Bill. Imagine the message that would have been sent had the SAD refused to support the Bill, despite its concern for Sikh refugees. What if the Sena had shown that its bite was in fact as sharp as its bark? Its Saamna editorial on Monday had attacked the CAB for creating an “invisible Hindu-Muslim divide”.

Fortunately, not all of the CAB debate was ugly. What nowadays tends to get overlooked is the presence of regional parties who remain untouched by the BJP’s ideology. Be it the TMC’s Abhishek Banerjee or the DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, they along with the Congress’ Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor could confront the Centre on the way the Bill was both unconstitutional and  fundamentally opposed to the essence of India’s composite traditions. “Is it a crime to be Muslim?” asked Maran, while Banerjee expressed his anguish about the Bill “ripping apart the soul of Bengal”. Maran spoke for many when he urged the home minister to get rid of his preoccupation with Pakistan and broaden his vision for the country instead of taking it backwards. 

But rhetoric apart, why didn’t the Opposition ensure a full turnout that would have reflected its real strength? And how many parties will actively prevent the NRC? Without the NRC, the CAB serves no purpose. For the total number of persecuted non-Muslim people in the country, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Bill was told, is 31,330: the population of one Mumbai street.   

Two crucial hurdles can thwart the BJP’s NRC-CAB project. One of course is the Supreme Court. Will it fail the most crucial test of the times or will it live up to its old role of being the last bastion of constitutional values? Second is the readiness of citizens to help Muslims targeted by the NRC. This means teams of lawyers and volunteers across the country working free. Needless to say, the greater responsibility lies on the Hindus.


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