One of the things that keeps anti-CAA protests such as the one in Shaheen Bagh going is a moral legitimacy. It is projected as an ‘organic uprising’ by citizens (especially Muslims) who have been dealt a cruel blow by an ‘authoritarian’ government that has ‘gone against the Constitution and is trying to divide the country on the basis of religion’. This, in a nutshell, is the charge against Narendra Modi government.
Regardless of CAA’s reality, of what it may or may not do, in opposing the government and demanding a repeal, therefore, the protestors are defending the Constitution and being the moral guardians of society — or so, at least, goes the justification and the narrative.
In two back-to-back speeches in Parliament on Thursday, the prime minister took away the moral justification behind the protests and stripped the ‘movement’ of its elaborate construct to reveal the political project within.
Coincidentally, Modi’s intervention in Parliament on the protests came on the day Enforcement Directorate (ED) submitted a report to home ministry establishing a money trail between PFI, the extremist Islamist organisation, and Shaheen Bagh protests and political link between anti-CAA protestors and leaders of AAP and Congress.
#Alert – Exclusive details of ED report on PFI link to Shaheen Bagh protest.
₹120.5 crore credited in 73 bank accounts: ED report.
— News18 (@CNNnews18) February 6, 2020
The ED will have to prove its case and we haven’t heard the last of that development, but the prime minister’s twin speeches in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha dug into history and established a clear link between India’s political discourse and policy positions on non-Muslim refugees since Partition and the amendment passed by the Modi government in January 2020.
This link is important because it busts the narrative that has so far fed and justified the continued picketing in the heart of New Delhi. The demonstrations, whose Islamist underpinnings and political motives are slowly unfolding before our eyes, were based on the narrative that Modi government has deviated from India’s secular tradition in bringing a law that gives citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from neighbouring nations.
Though the CAA in no way alters the legal status of any Indian citizen, this spurious narrative allowed the organisers and vested interests to use ‘secularism’, ‘defence of the Constitution’, ‘flag-waving’, ‘Preamble-reading’ and ‘anthem-singing’ as covers to play their political games and meet partisan objectives. The moral justification behind “defence of the Constitution and Indian secular tradition” also allowed extremist elements within the community such as Sharjeel Imam to use the platform as a legitimate tool and advance their dreams of breaking India.
By digging into history and reading out extracts from a resolution passed by a Congress Working Committee in 1947 to quoting extensively from Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Ram Manohar Lohia, BR Ambedkar, and even Jogendra Nath Mandal and Bhupendra Kumar Dutt, Modi launched a staunch defence of CAA during his Parliament speeches and showed that the amendment was the logical culmination of a policy of giving shelter to persecuted minorities from India’s neighbourhood that has long been part of India’s political discourse.
The positions taken by India’s former prime ministers, political stalwarts, founding father of Constitution and even lawmakers in Pakistan show that not only has CAA corrected a historic blunder, it is not anti-Muslim legislation and is rooted firmly in India’s secular tradition.
This was a surgical strike carried out on the spurious narrative against CAA by the prime minister, and he used Congress’ own luminaries to execute it. Modi’s first point of reference, during his reply to the Motion of Thanks on President’s address in Lok Sabha, was Nehru. He referred to the Nehru-Liaquat pact signed in 1950 to point out that it was meant to protect “minorities” in Pakistan and posed, “Why did Nehru, a big thinker and a secularist, say ‘minorities’ and not ‘all citizens’ of Pakistan?”
He then quoted from Nehru’s letter written in 1950 to Gopinath Bordoloi, Assam’s first chief minister, where India’s first prime minister asks the Assam government to differentiate between “Hindu refugees and Muslim immigrants”. In Parliament in 1950, Nehru had said that “there is no doubt that the affected people who have come to settle in India deserve citizenship and if the law isn’t suitable then it should be modified…”
“Was Pandit Nehru communal? Did he want to create a Hindu Rashtra? Did he discriminate between Hindus and Muslims,” Modi asked of the Opposition benches, pointing out that his government has done what Nehru had said decades ago.
He then referred to freedom fighter Bhupendra Kumar Datta, a member of All India Congress Committee, who stayed in Pakistan after Partition but eventually returned to India, protesting against “abject persecution of minorities in that country”. Modi quoted Datta, as saying in the Constituent Assembly “so far as the side of Pakistan concerned, minorities are practically liquidated. Those who live in East Pakistan live in total frustration”.
Modi also quoted from the resignation letter of Congressman Jogendra Nath Mandal, the first law minister in Pakistan who also returned to India after raising his voice against the treatment of minorities in Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In the resignation letter to Liaquat Ali Khan, Mandal writes: “I must say that this policy of driving out Hindus from Pakistan has succeeded completely in West Pakistan and is nearing completion in East Pakistan too… Pakistan has not given the Hindus entire satisfaction and a full sense of security. They now want to get rid of the Hindu intelligentsia so that the political, economic and social life of Pakistan may not in any way be influenced by them.”
In his Rajya Sabha speech, Modi’s first reference was former prime minister Shastri, whose words on a resolution in Parliament on 3 April, 1964, were: “The House is of the opinion that in view of the insecurity of the life, property and honour of the minority communities living in the Eastern wing of Pakistan and general denial of all human rights to them in part of Pakistan, the Government of India should in addition to relaxing restrictions in migration of people belonging to minority communities from East Pakistan to Indian union also consider steps for enlisting the world opinion.”
Modi then quoted Lohia, urging “Samajwadi friends” to listen to their ideologue and founder: “I refuse the fact that we should not care about the Hindus of Pakistan since they are Pakistani citizens. Irrespective of citizenship of Pakistan’s Hindus, it is our duty to protect them like we protect Indian Muslims and Hindus…”, adding, this wasn’t said by a BJP or a Jan Sangh leader but Ram Manohar Lohia. I urge Samajwadis to not ignore him”.
On the anti-CAA resolutions being passed by different states, Modi, quoting Shastri again, pointed out that many states in 1964 (when most were under Congress rule) had volunteered to resettle non-Muslim refugees, and also quoted from a Rajya Sabha speech delivered by the former prime minister where he said that “as far as East Pakistan is concerned, its decision seems to indicate that all non-Muslims will be driven out from there. It is an Islamic state… non-Muslims cannot live there…” Modi then asked, “Will you also call him communal?”
Finally, Modi referred to the resolution passed by the CWC on 25 November, 1947, where it read: “Congress is further bound to afford full protection to all those non-Muslims from Pakistan who have crossed the border and come to India or may do so to save their life and honour.” This set the stage for a parting shot from Modi.
“I don’t think Congress was communal in 1947 and has turned secular suddenly. You could have written all communities coming from Pakistan. Why did you use the term ‘Non-Muslims’?”
On NPR, that has been linked to CAA and has been opposed by various states, Opposition leaders and the ecosystem critical of the government, Modi pointed out that NPR was implemented in 2010 and biometric data was collected in 2011 — when Congress-led UPA was in power.
“By 2014, when you were out of power, the photo data of crores of people were collected. The work of NPR was on. NPR record which you had prepared was updated in 2015. Your record was used to reach out to beneficiaries left out of welfare schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Direct Benefit Transfer… Today, you are opposing and stopping people from taking benefits of such schemes.”
The prime minister’s meticulous research into history was an attempt to show, primarily, that it is the Congress and Opposition that has deviated from India’s secular tradition and have gone back on their promises and words. But the speeches also elaborated how the current protests are not a result of policy dissonance but a de facto political project against the electoral hegemony of Modi-led BJP government, and expression of frustration against Modi’s popularity. In short, Shaheen Bagh and its clones have no lofty purpose. It is a front for anarchy and political opportunism.
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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2020 14:19:34 IST