UNHRC moves SC on CAA: Easy to mock UN body's hypocrisy, but what's the impulse that motivates western campaign against India?

To argue that such legislative action is mala fide and needs corrective action is to express the patronising attitude of the West that perceives formerly colonised societies as inferior, incompetent and exotic.

Sreemoy Talukdar March 05, 2020 12:37:54 IST
UNHRC moves SC on CAA: Easy to mock UN body's hypocrisy, but what's the impulse that motivates western campaign against India?
  • To argue that such legislative action is mala fide and needs corrective action is to express the patronising attitude of the West that perceives formerly colonised societies as inferior, incompetent and exotic.

  • The CAA is a humane, compassionate law that seeks to heal some of the festering wounds of Partition.

  • India is a prime example of democracy being driven deeper and reinforced further beyond the West, but its normative behaviour cannot be expected to conform with the western standards of democracy.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), whose purpose of existence is a mystery to many, has disgraced itself again — this time by making a clownish intervention in India’s top court against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Moved by UNHRC chief Michelle Bachelet Jeria — a socialist, political activist and a former president of Chile — the plea is an attempt by the UN body to make itself a party in the case filed against CAA in the country’s top court. If UNHRC’s real motive was to kick up controversy and generate some relevance, it seems to have succeeded.

An indignant India has taken the bait. In a statement released to the media, spokesperson for the Union Ministry of External Affairs, Raveesh Kumar, called CAA an “internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws.” The statement reiterated “we strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty” and goes on to add: “We are clear that the CAA is constitutionally valid and complies with all requirements of our constitutional values. It is reflective of our long-standing national commitment in respect of human rights issues arising from the tragedy of the Partition of India.”

UNHRC moves SC on CAA Easy to mock UN bodys hypocrisy but whats the impulse that motivates western campaign against India

College students participate in a protest rally against CAA, NRC and NPR, in Kolkata. PTI

For good measure, the MEA statement also clarifies that “India is a democratic country governed by the rule of law. We all have utmost respect for and full trust in our independent judiciary. We are confident that our sound and legally sustainable position would be vindicated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

India tries too hard to make its case. It needn’t have. No one takes the hypocritical UNHRC seriously. “The cesspool of political bias” — as the US described it while pulling out of the council in 2018 — has exceeded its mandate this time by filing frivolous litigation and interfering with the sovereign right of a nation to determine its own refugee policy.

The original petitioner (former diplomat Deb Mukharji) has expressed discomfort with the foreign body’s “intervention on India’s internal issue” and the court may do well to throw out the plea and levy a fine on the organisation.

The CAA may have triggered protests inside India, but the country is not a tinpot autocracy unlike many of UNHRC’s member states. The protests witnessed in India are the internal debates of a robust democracy. The legislation has been passed after a thorough argument in Parliament that represents the will of the people, by a government that has been democratically elected through the world’s largest electoral exercise and enjoys overwhelming mandate.

To argue that such legislative action is mala fide and needs corrective action is to express the patronising attitude of the West that perceives formerly colonised societies as inferior, incompetent and exotic. There’s a word for this attitude: orientalism. Edward Said did warn us about it.

The CAA is a humane, compassionate law that seeks to heal some of the festering wounds of Partition. If it seeks to expedite citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from three of India’s neighbouring states that are Muslim-majority and Islamic republics, then it is done through the application of certain criteria within a specific context — rooted in India’s unique history as a civilisational state.

As External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishankar explained recently during a meeting with European ministers in Brussels, the CAA is not unlike the refugee and resettlement policies in Europe where Germany, for instance, allowed ethnic Germans from eastern Europe to seek citizenship by giving them a naturalised pathway.

This notably does not mean that India has shut the door on giving citizenship to Muslims — the key charge against CAA — but it has made a positive discrimination in favour of certain religiously persecuted communities just as the US did in 1990 through the Lautenberg Amendment via which the immigration of Jews and evangelical Christians from former USSR was fast-tracked. The Bahai community of Iran, a minority in the Muslim-majority nation, was added to this group through the Specter amendment in 2004.

In calling the law “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”, the UNHRC has exposed its poor understanding of a complex issue, or worse still, has made a statement of mala fide intent driven by misplaced political activism.

The representative picture of protests attached to this tweet is indicative of the confusion that the UN body suffers from on CAA.

In Assam, where the protests initially kicked off, the CAA has been seen as a legislative tool that may threaten Assam’s demography and endanger further its ethnic population. Therefore, there has been a total rejection of the law in the state, unlike elsewhere in India where protests have centred around the fact that it is not “inclusive” enough. By adding this picture accompanying its comment on “discrimination”, the UNHRC has exposed its tragic ignorance on the subject.

And that’s not surprising. The key problem facing the debate around CAA in western liberal media and “progressive” political circles is its failure to understand or appreciate the complexity of the issue and an almost existential need to strip every debate to the bone in a form of ‘black-white’ binary for a polarised and pointless argument. Add to this the western prejudice towards the rise of nationalistic impulses in India and an intrinsic hatred towards the political forces that espouse it.

This is where the whole issue gets more interesting. UNHRC’s move to intervene in India’s judicial procedure and interfere with India’s sovereign rights is reflective of a more fundamental phenomenon at work — the western world’s unease with the political revival of societies shaking off their colonial past and expressing their nationalism — sometimes (as is the case with India) through democratic validation.

The West’s unease with nationalism has its reasons. But it also reflects the intellectual inadequacy of liberal thinkers who paint all nationalisms with the same brush. As EAM Jaishankar recently elaborated during his speech at the 6th India Ideas Conclave, “painting (of) all nationalisms with the same brush is not the thinking of nationalists at all. On the contrary, it is the strategy of globalists who seek to simplify the world into an advantageous binary proposition. By doing so, they put very different political phenomena – some assertive, others more reactive and the rest just simply expressive – in the same basket. That makes it much easier to explain. And as we have often discovered, to demonize as well.”

Why is this problematic? To take India’s example, in its political revival and expression of nationalism lies an expression of its Independence from colonial rule and reinforcing of its roots as a civilisational nation-state. India is a prime example of democracy being driven deeper and reinforced further beyond the West, but its normative behaviour can’t be expected to conform with the western standards of democracy. The biggest problem around the conversation with nationalism is that West is unable to handle this expression and departure from normative standards set by the west through its complex web of institutions such as the United Nations.

These mediums and institutions, to quote from Jaishankar’s speech again, “are self-appointed arbiters of political correctness. Apparently, their judgements are of such high order that they claim superiority over the verdict of democracy and the will of legislatures”.

This is the crux of the debate. Therefore, be it the UNHRC or the Freedom House that in its latest report has denounced India’s “turn towards Hindu nationalism” the intolerance is evident with the political revival of nations that are finally emerging from a colonial hangover. The West needs to wrap its head around it because it is an indomitable force of history that is finally correcting its course.

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