Joining the Dots is a weekly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire
It is now more than a month since the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act was passed by Parliament, sparking off protests around the country that show no signs of abating. If anything, popular anger against the law has hardened due to police brutality especially in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states. A welter of other resentments has flowed into the protests against the CAA and National Register of Citizens, which have now come to symbolise everything that many Indians dislike about their present government.
There is unhappiness at the high prices of vegetables and the low state of the economy. There is irritation at the daily lies about practically everything, which have ceased to fool anyone except the completely brainwashed. There is anger at constant rebukes delivered at high decibel to anyone who has a different point of view. There is exasperation at unending bigotry with no signs of any of the promised “vikas”. There is shock at the brutality unleashed by the police in Uttar Pradesh and by goons with police help on young students in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Probably every issue could have been handled much better if the government had shown any signs of listening to those who disagree, or at least to its own experts, and working out compromise solutions. Instead, we have seen even small issues escalate into massive battles. In the case of JNU, the original issue was actually a much smaller matter related to a sudden hike in fees and other costs, to which a section of students objected. The Human Resources Development ministry worked out a compromise formula but, according to the Indian Express, the Higher Education Secretary who worked out the compromise solution was transferred practically overnight for his efforts.
The cost to the University Grants Commission involved in accepting this compromise, which on average is somewhere in the range of Rs 1,000 per student per year towards service and utility charges in a university with a total of around 7,300 hostel residents, is obviously negligible for the government at less than Rs 1 crore. Last financial year, just one Indian bank, the State Bank of India, wrote off bad debts worth Rs 76,660 crore. The public sector banks have been busy writing off lakhs of crores in bad debts, which they are unable to recover. Meanwhile, some bloodsucking netas are busy trying to squeeze a thousand rupees a year out of students, many of whom are genuinely poor, by using goons to beat them up.
That mean, thuggish approach has caused matters to escalate. The situation now is that, although the Vice-Chancellor has belatedly agreed after the attack on students to the compromise formula he had previously rejected, the issue now is no longer about the fee hike. It is about the criminal assaults and attempts to murder students and faculty that happened with evident support of the administration under him, for which the Delhi Police is yet to make any arrests. The demand now is for the VC’s removal, and justice for the crimes.
A similar escalatory spiral has occurred in the case of the Citizenship Amendment Act which was forced through despite long and clear expression of objections by many sections, especially in Northeast India. The attitude towards them is clear from statements emanating from BJP leaders. Dilip Ghosh, the BJP’s West Bengal chief, said proudly that “anti-CAA protesters were shot like dogs in BJP-ruled states”. When faced with criticism over this, he retorted, “whatever I said is what the party’s stand is. If we get a chance in Bengal, we will handle it in a similar way”.
These are not the words of a democrat. They are the words of a tyrant. If shooting unarmed protesters like dogs is the party stand, as Ghosh says, then India has ceased to be a democracy in all but name. A periodic holding of elections by itself is not enough to make for substantive democracy. Ideas of dissent and dialogue are important in democratic societies and polities. The government of the day is expected to channel differences into healthy debates and work out acceptable compromises. There is none of that happening at present.
This government was elected with a big majority only months ago and is in no evident danger of collapse. On the other hand, the protests against CAA and NRC are not about to vanish either, because they are people’s protests. Opposition leaders will face the ire of their own voters if they are seen trying to cut shady deals. The demands of the protesters are quite clear. They want the CAA struck down, and they do not want the NRC in any form.
On the matter of striking down the CAA, the Supreme Court will have the final word. On the matter of all-India NRC, it is up to the government to restore the National Population Register exercise to its original form because in its amended form it is seen as the first step towards the NRC.
Unfortunately, no matter what the court or government decides, it may be impossible to find any solution that satisfies all sides in Northeast India. If the Northeast is exempted from CAA, the million-plus Hindus among the 1.9 million excluded from Assam’s NRC, mostly Bengalis, who have been led on so far by the BJP on promises and hopes, will cry betrayal. If the Northeast is not exempted, sub-nationalist forces in the region will get a fresh impetus of the kind they have not got since the early 1990s, when the United Liberation Front of Asom was at its peak.
If the Supreme Court fails to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of all then, barring the possibility of a referendum, the country may be left to stagger along from crisis to crisis for the remainder of the term of this government.
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Updated Date: Jan 16, 2020 10:11:08 IST