CAA may make India lose friendly neighbours

The assertion of the new law indicates that there is no realisation that an avoidable step has been taken without exactly visualising that it has potential to  shake the very foundations of the country

All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes”, said Winston Churchill, a former British Prime Minister, known for his statesmanship. Going farther from what Churchill stated, one finds that those who don’t get wiser after making mistakes only complicate the situation by committing more mistakes. Viewed against this backdrop, Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertion at Lucknow a few days back that the much-criticised Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) would not be withdrawn, come what may. Have a closer look at his exact words, “Let me say this here and now, this law will not be withdrawn, no matter who protests… We are not scared of opposition, we were born in it.”

The assertion indicates that there is no realisation that an avoidable step has been taken without exactly visualising that the CAA could not only shake the country by its very foundations, but also lead to India losing the gains it has made in expanding its presence in the neighbouring countries, particularly in Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Indications are already there that these friendly neighbours have not taken it kindly that their non-Muslim nationals who have somehow shifted to India with a plan never to go back home are persecuted people and, therefore, need to be given citizenship of India so that they can live here without any fear of displacement.

People outside Assam and the rest of the Northeast never raised an objection to any plan to give citizenship to these undocumented migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh  on grounds of their being persecuted communities. There was already a law which had it that such foreigners could be given Indian citizenship provided they had proof of being in India for at least 11 years.

The problem arose when the law was amended not only to reduce the stay period from 11 years to five years but also to include a condition that all the persecuted migrants from these three countries could get the benefit only if they are not Muslims. No Muslim coming to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh even as being persecuted could get Indian citizenship under the CAA.

This is a clear case of discrimination on the basis of one’s religious identity in a country where the Constitution clearly opposes it. Those behind the idea of such a law (now called a black law), perhaps, did not think that any decision on the basis of one’s religion would not be in accordance with the scheme of things in India’s secular Constitution.

Or, as it is suspected, the CAA along with the controversial plan for the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been aimed at changing the basic character of the Constitution. Not only this. Think of the day when the NRC process begins and those who would fail to provide the required documents in accordance with the whims and fancies of the dealing officials do not find their names in the NRC.  That would mean an end to their citizenship rights or, in other words, their world collapsing upside down.

Going by the provisions in the CAA, today’s Muslim citizens not finding their names in the NRC would be categorised as being “foreigners”. Then their only place would be a detention centre as no country would be willing to accept them as its citizens. And why should they?

It is believed that an overwhelming majority of people, mostly the poverty-stricken Indians, would not be able to provide documentary proof of their being Indians. That would be a horrible scenario, indeed, difficult to fully imagine at this stage. As noted human rights activist Harsh Mander wrote some time ago in a national daily, India then would be experiencing a kind of chaos not seen even in 1947, when the country was partitioned!

Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assertion that undocumented non-Muslims belonging to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan would fall in the category of persecuted communities and would, therefore, be given Indian citizenship. But, particularly, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, India’s friendly neighbours, have politely made it clear that there is no persecution of people there as seen from New Delhi.

Bangladesh first expressed its displeasure when its Home Minister and Foreign Minister cancelled their scheduled visits to India in view of the situation arising out of the enactment of the CAA, according to media reports quoting diplomatic sources.

Now Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said in the course of an interview she gave to Dubai’s Gulf News, “We don’t understand why (the Indian government) did it (enacted the CAA). It was not necessary.” Contrary to this, she had earlier taken the stand that she was satisfied with India’s assurance that the CAA and the NRC, if at all it happens, were internal matters of India and would not affect Bangladesh in any manner.

Her statement indicates that an India-friendly leader of a neighbouring country does not feel comfortable with the argument given for the CAA, premised on the persecution of minorities (read Hindus) in Bangladesh, who account for 10.7 per cent of the 161 million population of that country. India has clarified that the persecution that New Delhi talks of happened before Sheikh Hasina captured power in her country, but whether this has ended her anxiety is not known.

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in a recent interview with The Hindu acknowledged India’s position in his country “as our most important friend and ally for strategic and historical reasons.” In the same breath, he also remarked that “they may have had reasons for it (CAA)”. But “we don’t have persecuted minorities in Afghanistan… the whole country is persecuted. We have been in war and conflict for a long time. All religions in Afghanistan — Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs, which are our three main religions — have suffered “, added Karzai.

Thus, there is a clear hint that if India continues with the kind of policies that one sees behind the CAA, it is bound to alienate one day Bangladesh and Afghanistan as the two friendly countries. A very sad situation for the country having mostly hostile neighbours.

One can easily conclude that the space that India might be losing would be occupied by China. In fact, China’s presence has already gone up not only in Pakistan but also in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal. Experts see the recent visit to Myanmar by Chinese President Xi Jinping as a vivid challenge to India owing to the changing geopolitical situation in South Asia. It is, therefore, time for our leaders to think coolly and revise the country’s policy initiatives keeping in view India’s long-term and short-term interests within the country and in its immediate neighbourhood.