CAA: Opposition parties spreading misinformation

Hardeep S Puri

In the last 10 days, opposition parties have mounted an anti-government campaign using the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, (CAA) as the lightening rod. They have deliberately spread misinformation, indulged in fear mongering, inflamed passions, mobilised forces inimical to the countries interest and incited widespread violence. Riding on a totally false narrative they became party to stone pelting, destruction of public property, arson and attacks on the police forces going against the Gandhian principles of peaceful protests. Some even went to the extent of inviting foreign intervention.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at Ramlila Maidan, effectively explained and sought to remove misunderstandings among the people, especially the youth, about his government’s stance on CAA.

What the CAA does not do is equally important. It neither alters nor challenges the rights of any Indian citizen, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, sect, ethnicity or race. The narrative that the CAA threatens religious minorities in India is ignorance at best and treacherous at worst. Stoking fear in the minds of the citizenry on religious grounds, particularly by co-opting the young of this country is the lowest form of politicking and is reminiscent of the British Imperialist playbook.

Additionally, the CAA is not an ‘open invitation’ to citizens of India’s three neighbouring countries, as some in the opposition seem to think and propagate. With the cut-off date set at 31 December, 2014, the CAA seeks to confer citizenship rights only on those refugees who are already in India, and are currently disenfranchised.

There has also been a deliberate attempt to stoke confusion on the ‘exclusionary’ nature of the CAA by suggesting that it is not just religious minorities (Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis) that face persecution in these three countries. A better understanding of law, history, anthropology and sociology should clear such doubts – first, these countries are Islamic republics. The question of Muslim persecution on religious grounds in Islamic countries, therefore, should not arise. This does not mean that Muslims who are otherwise persecuted in these countries cannot apply for Indian citizenship – in fact, in the last five years, Modi’s government has granted citizenship to nearly 600 Muslims from these very countries.

Second, there has been an attempt to invoke Article 14 of India’s Constitution to discredit the CAA. A careful reading of the article, along with the precedents set over the last seven decades, suggests that the ‘reasonable classification’ provision was made exactly for the purpose of an act such as the CAA. Put another way, CAA should be viewed from the lens of affirmative action i.e., bestowing rights upon those who have historically been discriminated against.

Third, each modern nation has the prerogative to define the criteria for according citizenship. Even the most developed countries do not provide citizenship rights unconditionally or indiscriminately. In the case of modern-India, refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Uganda or Bangladesh, have all been given asylum. The CAA does not alter this commitment to human rights; rather, it only reaffirms India’s position as an upholder of humanitarian values.

And last the conflation of CAA with the National Register of Citizens (NRC). As Prime Minister made it abundantly clear in his speech on 22 December, there has been no discussion of NRC in the government. The exercise is limited only to Assam under a Supreme Court mandated order. To search for mysterious link between the two, particularly when the CAA has a cut-off date of 31 December, 2014, smacks of the vote-bank politics the Indian National Congress (INC), and its various so-called ‘secular’ bedfellows have been indulging in for decades. This vote-bank politics was rejected first in 2014, and then even more resoundingly in 2019.

The CAA in fact reaffirms India’s secular credentials by providing security to individuals who already reside within our borders.Those who are blinded by fake narratives are attempting to destroy India’s delicate social fabric. It is incumbent upon us as responsible Indians to reject such forces and uphold the values of our civilizational heritage.

(Hardeep S Puri is Union Minister for Civil Aviation and Housing and Urban Affairs)