Citizenship Act: BJP’s election trump card

Activist of left parties stand behing a banner during a protest against India`s new citizenship in Kolkata on 26 February 2020, following clashes between people supporting and opposing a contentious amendment to India`s citizenship law in New DelhiAFP file photo

Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina has perhaps received her answer. During a visit to the United Arab Emirates four years ago, she had said bemusedly in an interview there, “I do not understand why India did this! There was no need for this law!” The only true answer to the bewilderment of Bangladesh’s prime minister is that after much prevarication over the past four years, the aim and objective of that law was to pull in the Lok Sabha votes like a magnet.

This is the talk of the town all over India at the moment. But there are many questions in the air too. Much doubt is being evoked. A strange suspicion drags on – will this eventually backfire? Truthfully speaking, no one has an answer. Even the government is without an answer!

No one has any questions about what the CAA -- Citizens (Amendment) Act -- is all about. By now everyone is clear that India will provide citizenship to the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Jain and Parsee who have fled oppression from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Who will be provided with this citizenship? Those who have come to India before 31 December 2014 and have lived in the country for five years. The government has now made it known what has to be done to get that citizenship. A 39-page circular has been published. And therein lies the concern and worry.

The first worry is, how can the required papers be collected? Those who have fled, leaving behind all their possessions, are now worried. If they don’t have the documents, how will they prove that they lived in any one of those three countries and were citizens there?

The second worry is about documents to indicate when they precisely came to India and started reside in the country. There are several documents in this regard. It is quite difficult to understand who needs which documents. To make sure that no state creates problems in this regard, it has been decided to receive the applications online. A special app will be put in place for the purpose.

There are other unanswered questions. For example, if the applications of a few thousand people are rejected, where will they be kept? Will detention camps be set up for them in the various states, as was done in Assam?

That is not where the worries end. If the application submitted online is found to be in order, the applicant will then have to appear with all documents before the district committee. They will scrutinize the papers. There is no guarantee that everyone will be cleared then. Once cleared, the applicant then will enter the next step. The applicant will have to go to the state level committee. Only once clearance is given there, will the citizenship certificate be proffered. The applicant will then proudly be able to declare, I am an Indian citizen.

And therein lies the key question. And therein lies the cause of concern.

Also Read

There are two committees to scrutinize the application. The first is at the district level and the second at the state level. The circular makes no mention of what will happen if an application is rejected. This gap in information is significant. For instance, the question has been raised as to the persons who have been living more or less quite easily without citizenship for so long with the rest of the people, voting with their voting cards, receiving food with their ration cards, working in various jobs, opening bank accounts, even arranging their national ID cards. Will they be able to continue will all those facilities even if their applications are rejected? Or will they get a chance to apply afresh? The circular does not answer these questions.

The even bigger problem is right at the roots. By applying for citizenship and submitting an affidavit, the person is admitting that he is not an Indian citizen. He is a trespasser. Such an admission gives rise to thorny questions. For example, how did the person receive a voter card, ration card, national ID card, etc? If anyone is a government official, their jobs might be at stake. That is a concern too. Will they be harassed or not? All this remains a mystery.

It has not been said whether the person will be sent back if the application submitted along with the affidavit is rejected. The central government has merely stated that India has no such agreement with those three countries. It is true that there is no such agreement at present, but it hardly takes any time at all for such an agreement to be inked.

There are other unanswered questions. For example, if the applications of a few thousand people are rejected, where will they be kept? Will detention camps be set up for them in the various states, as was done in Assam?

And are the government’s statements concerning these detention camps at all believable? It is a matter of apprehension because the government comes up with different statements at different times. Speaking at a public rally at the Ramlila ground of Delhi in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said no Muslim had been sent to any detention camp and that there were hardly any such camps in the country. Yet the fact remains that there were such temporary camps from beforehand in Assam. Work on a temporary camp to accommodate around 3000 people had begun from back in 2018 on 25 acre plot of land in Goalpara, 150km away from Guwahati. Ironically, before he became prime minister in 2014, Narendra Modi had declared in his election campaign that if he came to power, he would raze all detention camps to the ground.

The government’s credibility is also questioned over the National Register of Citizens (NRC). While Modi said that the central cabinet had not discussed the NRC, his ‘Man Friday’ home minister Amit Shah explained the chronology of the CAA and NRC to the people, saying that first CAA would be put in place, to be followed by NRC. Those who have the citizenship sword hanging over their necks can hardly have trust in the government.

Also Read

It is quite clear why the need to enact the CAA emerged after waiting for four years, precisely before the Lok Shabha elections. Everyone is aware why protests rocked the country in 2019. Everyone is aware why riots broke out in Delhi and other parts of the country. It is also clear as daylight why this law is being termed as contrary to the constitution, why the government cannot display religious discrimination in providing citizenship, why it is being said that this law cannot be given legitimacy by the judiciary. The Pulwama-Balakot issue was used to polarize votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The opposition is certain that the CAA is to be used as a catalyst of polarization in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The ‘Modi ki Guarantee’ is on in full swing all over India. In other words, it is a guarantee to fulfill all guarantees. Enacting the CAA was also one of BJP’s guarantees. The BJP government has met this commitment. It is not known how far it will be able to carry this off successfully, whether the Supreme Court one fine day will declare this law unconstitutional, as in the case of rejecting the election bonds. But one thing is clear, despite the questions with no answers, the CAA is to be BJP’s trump card in winning the election.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina now will surely understand the necessity of this law.                  

* Saumya Bandyopadhyay is Prothom Alo’s New Delhi Correspondent

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

Also Read
Also Read