Monday, April 12, 2021

Stifling dissent

Facing severe disturbance and protests across the country, the NDA-government appears to have marginally mellowed down its position on going ahead with implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC), going by the statements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah last week. These statements have been preceded by conflicting contentions of both of them when protests erupted and turned violent in different parts of the country. The Prime Minister’s contention that the widespread concerns about the NRC are merely fear-mongering by his political opponents is not genuine and unsustainable. At one point, Modi said that no discussion on NRC had taken place in the government, which may be a clever statement but is certainly not reassuring to those who fear its fallout across the country. It cannot be ignored that the plans for a country-side NRC were announced repeatedly by senior functionaries of the NDA-government including Amit Shah, even in the Parliament. Some of his cabinet colleagues and chief ministers of the BJP-ruled states ministers also contended that the nationwide NRC will be implemented despite opposition from majority of the Chief Ministers from opposition-ruled states besides some of them belonging to his party. The concern that such an exercise, in combination with the recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), could lead to disenfranchisement and harassment of the poor and undocumented segments of the population was not born out of anyone’s imagination. Such a link has been stated by the ruling parties themselves. The political thought behind the CAA-NRC fusion is the distinction that Modi makes between ‘infiltrators’ and ‘refugees’, as if they could be segregated and separated on the basis of their religious beliefs. This argument was advanced in the 2014 campaign and it is ironical that Modi reiterated it in the same speech in which he accused the opposition of spreading misinformation on the NRC and NPR. If the government has a rethink on its strident position on the NRC, it must say so upfront, and at any rate desist from denigrating the critics. Till date, whatever has come as clarification from the NDA-regime has further confounded the confusion. Taking into consideration the acute concerns of the people in the country, the NDA-government must seriously evaluate its position. This is particularly necessary for the reason that India has a host of serious national challenges to tackle at this stage, the economy being the most critical. It may be recalled that Narendra Modi in his first Independence Day speech as Prime Minister, had in 2014 called for a 10-year moratorium on communal and caste conflicts. He also promised to run the country on the basis of consensus and not of legislative majority. It is time he should redeem that pledge, and work to heal the deep wounds inflicted by his misguided policy priorities guided by the regressive mindset of the rightwing Hindutva agenda. The intolerance towards dissenting views and political opponents is expressed in horrifying terms down the ladder. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, vowed to take ‘revenge’ against CAA-NRC protesters who turned violent. His contempt for the minorities is not hidden and has been on naked display in the past. That is one of the reasons why maximum excesses to quell the anti-CAA protests have come from Uttar Pradesh. It is reasonable to wonder why a state of exception today prevails in the Yogi ruled state when much larger protests in other parts of the country have by and large happened peacefully. So far the UP police have not explained satisfactorily how several people died of bullet injuries, while claiming that their men did not fire a single bullet. One can also recall how a BJP MLA had threatened to ‘wipe out’ critics of CAA-NRC. Several other BJP functionaries have continued to make poisonous statements regarding the NRC, even after the Prime Minister blamed the opposition. These statements cannot be regarded as aberrations of some elements in the party, but a part of the concerted campaign against the voices of dissent. The Prime Minister must demonstrate he is a man of his word, and that his writ runs in the party and the NDA-government.