AS 2019 draws to a close, India today truly finds itself at a crossroads where one road leads towards the RSS dream of a Hindu Rashtra and the other must take us to a higher level of secular democracy. Having been re-elected for a second term, the Modi government has rapidly unleashed the whole artillery of the long-term RSS agenda with a now-or-never kind of desperate aggression and virulence. Even as the economy reels under a massive slowdown, shrinking consumption and mounting unemployment, with millions suffering from acute hunger, the government has gone ahead with its conspiratorial political agenda, first stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its constitutional status and even statehood and then rushing through an amendment to the Citizenship Act that changes the very terms of our citizenship and the character of our Republic.
The Constitution of India begins with the Preamble, which in turn begins with the defining expression ‘we, the people of India’. All power flows from and resides in the people who are the bedrock of India’s sovereignty. The people elect governments in accordance with the Constitution and governments are duty-bound to uphold the Constitution. In a complete reversal of this relationship of the people holding the government accountable, we now have the government making constant demands on the people. The onus is shifted on the people to prove that their money is legitimate (demonetization), that they are not terrorists or engaged in unlawful activities (UAPA) and now that they are legal citizens of this country (CAA-NRC). And to impose this agenda the BJP governments are resorting not just to massive lies and hate-filled propaganda but to brutal repression and indiscriminate suspension of democracy with ‘governance’ increasingly acquiring the trappings of a complete police state. In India’s largest state the police now look like an organised, official lynch mob carrying out the Chief Minister’s orders of revenge.
In August when the Modi-Shah duo carried out the Kashmir coup, many in India still thought it was just an act of bringing about some legal uniformity, an innocent step towards a ‘one country, one law’ order. The act of bifurcation of the state into two union territories of coursed raised some eyebrows as did the mass arresting of Kashmiri leaders and ordinary people and the total suspension of communication and democracy in the valley. Yet Kashmir remained remote for most common Indians. When a few weeks later the final NRC left close to two million people excluded in Assam, and reports of deaths in Assam’s detention camps started trickling out into the national media, the rest of the country began wondering about what was really happening in Assam. But for many it was still just another state in the North-East.
However, with Amit Shah fast-tracking the BJP agenda of an all-India NRC and rushing through a communal, discriminatory and anti-constitutional amendment to the Citizenship Act in less than 72 hours, the whole of India has begun to wake up to the horrific implications of the entire design. And with frequent internet shutdowns, brutal police invasion of universities and homes and violent attacks on protests across the country, especially in BJP-ruled states and the national capital, experiences in Kashmir and Assam perhaps no longer seem so remote.
In Uttar Pradesh in particular, where te Chief Minister vowed "revenge" against protestors, the police as unleashed terror and plunder in Muslim communities, under cover of an internet shutdown. Gujarat 2002 is being repeated A BJP MLA from Kaithal, Haryana has made the genocidal intent of his party clear, saying in a speech, "This is not the India of Nehru and Manmohan Singh, it is the India of Modi and Shah. Miyan ji (taunting term for a Muslim) listen up, we can wipe you out in an hour if we get a signal."
For too long the Modi government and the Sangh-BJP brigade have been trying to widen the fault lines of our complex and diverse society and resurrect the worst chapters of our history. But finally we can see the country fighting back and rallying around the finest dreams and values of our freedom movement and the Constitution. The BJP which habitually paints everything with a communal brush to stoke the fires of communal polarisation is trying to tell us that only sections of ‘jehadi Muslims’ and ‘urban Naxals’ are misleading people into unwarranted and uninformed protests over NRC and CAA. But for once the BJP is finding it difficult to hoodwink the people and the protests against NRC and CAA are only spreading further and growing more courageous and determined. The spectre of fascist Hindu Rashtra has finally run into some resolute mass resistance.
The Modi government is trying to suppress the opposition to the CAA-NRC by calling it anti-national and blatantly mobilising Islamophobia, with Modi saying protesters could be ‘identified by their dress’. Shah and Yogi are letting loose the police force under their command to target the protesters in all places and in every possible way. Section 144, a colonial-era order restricting human mobility in specific areas to prevent potential violations of law and order, is being clamped down arbitrarily and indefinitely in entire regions and internet is being shut down frequently. Yet defying such open tyranny, protests are breaking out across India, giving words like secularism, democracy and solidarity a new vibrant meaning and spirit.
This spirit of mass protest has also begun to make its presence felt in the electoral arena. After the elections to Haryana and Maharashtra Assemblies, we have now again seen the powerful impact of this spirit in the Jharkhand elections. While the Haryana and Maharashtra election verdicts dented the BJP’s claims to electoral invincibility, Jharkhand has delivered a body blow to the BJP’s election machine. Modi, Shah and Yogi all tried every trick in their rhetorical repertoire, played all the trump cards from Kashmir to Ayodhya, and NRC to CAA, and yet could not save the Raghubar government, which had become synonymous with hunger and fear, corruption and repression, from a spectacular defeat.
This combination of spirited popular protests and emphatic electoral rejection must mark our way ahead. Jolted by the mass opposition, the government is pretending to go soft on the NRC, almost to the point of disowning it, hoping to camouflage the thoroughly communal and anti-constitutional CAA as empowerment of refugees. We must continue to expose and challenge the CAA for what it is – a war on the secular character of our republic, a mockery of the basic constitutional principle of equality of all citizens regardless of their religious identity and a negation of Hindu-Muslim fraternity that serves as the biggest bulwark of India’s national unity and cultural diversity – till the government is compelled to withdraw this divisive and anti-constitutional CAA-NRC package. 2019 is ending on a high note of mass protests and electoral setbacks for the BJP, let 2020 begin in the same spirit with the power of the 8 January all-India mass strike and another debilitating defeat of the BJP in the elections to the Delhi Assembly.