Ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections 2024, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on March 11. The CAA, which originated in 2016 and was passed by Parliament in 2019, aims to grant citizenship to people belonging to religious minorities from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries, who migrated to India before December 31, 2014. Muslims are excluded from the ambit of CAA, albeit some Muslim sects like Shia and Ahmedia are equally persecuted in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The government has defended the CAA as a measure to protect persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, asserting that it does not affect Indian citizens. But the issue is not that simple. There remains a lot to read between the lines. If Assam experience is any guide, there is every reason to believe that the Centre is trying to send a large number of people to detention camp, dubbing them foreigners. It’s a matter of time that after CAA, NRC will come into focus. The Assamese chauvinists, however, are protesting against CAA for a different reason altogether. They don’t want to see Bengali Hindu refugees from Bangladesh becoming Indian citizens.

The NRC, established under the Citizenship Act of 1955, is designed to identify legal Indian residents. The National Register of Citizens comprises a record exclusively of Indian citizens. The implementation of CAA coupled with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), could lead to discrimination against Muslims and Hindus as well. The fate of Hindu refugees from the earstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, actually hangs in the balance, notwithstanding what the Bharatiya Janata Party is saying these days. What they are not saying is more important.

Then there is NPR–National Population Register. It is compulsory for every resident of India to register in NPR. It includes both Indian citizens as well as foreign citizens. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs took a controversial step towards NPR and NRC by linking the information in the Aadhaar database in 2015. While the only legal method of linking these two databases involves obtaining informed consent from every resident through a public exercise akin to census, conducted by the Registrar General of India (RGI), the Government’s exercise, however, lacked any provision to gather such informed consent for this linkage. This seemingly unlawful action renders the NPR even greater threat to the common people than previously believed.

The BJP is hoping to gain electoral dividends, mainly from Bengal, by promulgating CAA before the Loksabha polls. They think the Matua community people will vote them enmasse. But voters are wise enough to think twice before applying for citizenship under CAA. They are realising that citizenship as per CAA is conditional. They may have to face a ‘from fire to frying pan’ situation. Thousands of people will be denied citizenship because the rootless people will never be able to provide necessary documents required under CAA. They are protesting in different parts of Bengal which doesn’t get much coverage in the media. After all the big media houses, including dozens of TV channels are shamelessly pro-BJP, rather pro-Modi. They see in it a conspiracy, better to say a dubious design, to make a large number of people stateless. They are distributing leaflets accusing BJP of betraying them. They are organising meetings to highlight their plight, particularly in districts bordering Bangladesh. Even some BJP supporters are coming out openly to criticise their leadership for betrayal because their demand was ‘granting of unconditional citizenship’ but CAA is nowhere near it. In truth the reverse is true and they are trying to hide the bitter truth, apprehending backlash in polls.

Conditions in CAA are so harsh that those who came to this part of the globe after partition, without any possession, will never be able to furnish documents relating to their old residency in the country they have left because of state persecution and communal riots. This is the hard reality but the persons in power are just misleading the public by spreading half-truths.

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Vol 56, No. 41, Apr 7 - 13, 2024