This may just be a placatory gesture and will be back given the BJP’s performance in State polls
For long, the ruling establishment has demonised the countrywide protests over the citizenship law as anti-national betrayal, an elitist-liberal conspiracy and an attack on the Hindu way of life. The party with a difference at the Centre has been trying to convince the nation that existing templates of governance needed to be overturned to effect such a change and years of minority appeasement had to be replaced with majoritarian resentment. But if it was so sanguine about the sporadic nature of dissent, then what could explain a temporary reversal of its stand on the National Register of Citizens (NRC)? Clearly the sound and fury signify something for the Government to at least halt its missionary zeal to go for a profiling-based census or justifying it as a way of rooting out illegal immigrants. Clearly, a civil society movement has generated such a swell among common citizens across India, from students to grannies, from working class to labourers, and affected the nation’s productivity cycle to such an extent that the BJP feels its ramrod aggression is costing it politically. Combined with the venom of the hate speeches flying thick and fast and the morally reprehensible sedition and inquiry brought against students and teachers of a school play, the strong agenda push has even left its apologists and defendants somewhat red-faced. The civil unrest across the country has given us a primary lesson in democracy, that people may make ideological choices but are largely against societal deconstruction driven by political imperatives. And the country cannot be in a perpetual state of a war with itself. For long, the Right has played the victim card as a recipient of the Leftist-socialist and Congress oppression. Now that it has a brute electoral majority, that narrative is well past its expiry date. And it must realise that the people’s verdict needs to be respected, that it needs to be trusted as a deliverer and not just be an avenger. It must realise that its manifesto cannot become the nation’s own. That’s why the latest Home Ministry clarification in Parliament that there was no plan for the NRC shows the Government has been stung, temporarily at least. For it comes at a time when senior BJP Ministers, including Home Minister Amit Shah, and even Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — who has been consolidating the Hindu votebank in mathematical terms in his State and raising the ghostly invasion by “others” — have made no bones about the need to isolate illegal settlers, namely Muslims. It also proves that the Government’s effort to treat the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in isolation isn’t quite working. If the longevity of the protests, particularly Shaheen Bagh, has proven anything, it is that people are not against rehabilitating Hindu returnees, they are against the legacy hunt process, which may disqualify Muslims from the NRC list, who may not have redressal under CAA in the way an excluded Hindu would have. It is the otherisation and genocidal instincts implicit in the CAA that has riled up people. Which is why the pressure on the Government has been immense, such that Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to publicly overrule his deputy and Home Minister Amit Shah. Now the PM’s reassurance on “no NRC now” has been given official credibility.
But does this mean that the BJP is still pursuing its forked tongue approach? Is it rescuing Modi as a thinking patriarch and, therefore, he has to appear more statesmanlike while Shah and motormouths continue to be aggressors and somewhat recalcitrant members of the Sangh? Modi’s clarification that the NRC had not been discussed in the Government made light of Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament. Many loyalists argued that the PM was not present in the House when the legislation was placed, but can any legislative or policy matter be placed in the House without it having been discussed in the Government at all? This orchestrated rift between Modi and others has frankly been overplayed. Fact is, the cessation of NRC is but temporary to offset general fury over the country’s economic slowdown. The CAA-NRC project was part of the BJP manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Shah as BJP president then had promised to bring the CAA first and then implement the NRC. Frankly, with the abrogation of Article 370 and the Ram temple a reality, the BJP is left with very few promises to dangle and nurture the Hindu dream of a promised land. The NRC, therefore, is in abeyance. If the BJP blasts the citadel in the Delhi elections, it will be back. Even if it doesn’t, there will be some subtle State-level experiments for sure.