While the citizenship Bill provided an opportunity to grandstand, Opposition unity crumbled yet again
Yes, majoritarianism is the new normal in this country, there’s no doubt about that. What is worrisome is its coercive tide which nudges citizenry into a perpetual suspension of reason and disbelief. And it becomes a pretext for the ruling dispensation to justify even a diabolical move in the name of chaperoning democracy and as a reflection of the emotion of the times. So it is that the BJP is using the prevailing sentiment of Hindu pride to push through its manifesto in the name of fulfilling national agenda. The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha and is all set to become a law, is one such move that does little for repatriating persecuted Hindus — nobody knows where will the lakhs and crores of returnees that Home Minister Amit Shah estimates will be accommodated — but intensifies the BJP’s armoury of exclusionary politics. Coupled with the promised pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), which will require us to prove our rights to the land, the new Bill granting religion-based citizenship for refugees simply targets the biggest chunk of India’s minorities, Muslims, at 13 per cent of the population. The party has been successful in manufacturing fears of the enemy within, a “significant other”, which is robbing us of our seemingly great potential and resources. The Constitution is being projected as the product of a fossil era ideology that needs to be fired by the neo-idealism of a cleansed Hindu Rashtra. The Hindu domination narrative is threatening the diverse matrix of the nation by stoking the most aggressive kind of sub-nationalism and regionalism. Worse, legislators chosen by the people have decided to give up what they had believed and practised and are practising what is being preached. What else explains the pathetic Opposition response to the CAB in the Rajya Sabha? Granted that it can never compete on numbers, following the mammoth Lok Sabha verdict in favour of the BJP, but does that mean it will renege on its democratic pledge of making a conscience call and not even use its little advantage in the Rajya Sabha to show up in full strength for voting? Does it realise that ceding its electoral ground further compromises its raison d’être?
The flip flop of Janata Dal-United (JD-U), though expected as a new partner of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, has surprised many because its leader Nitish Kumar had been known to stand up against the NRC and the Citizenship Bill before. Yet he agreed to go with the Government position although the CAB contradicts Article 14 of the Constitution. He even ignored the dissent by senior leaders Pavan Varma and Prashant Kishor and his manifesto pledge to honour the statute. Clearly, Nitish’s hands are tied and this support is a quid pro quo for Shah’s endorsement of his chief ministership. Besides, his voter base is not dependent on the Muslim-Yadav grandstanding. Nitish no longer has national ambitions and is quite happy holding on to his State. His short alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) did not allow him breathing space while the BJP does not interfere in his working. So the tradeoff works to the extent of retaining his fiefdom. It is the same neutrality principle that is being followed by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy or even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami. Federal parties are being allowed space to flourish but being systematically cut off from shaping national agenda. This transactional and need-based support system is not only emasculating the Opposition collective but dangerously coopting everybody to a single-point agenda. In this context, the Shiv Sena’s boycott of the Rajya Sabha proceedings on CAB is understandable. Ideologically committed to its distinct Hindutva moorings, it could hardly stay away from condoning the CAB. But now that it runs the Maharashtra Government with the secular Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine, it walked out in deference to changed realities. Of course, it could have had the psychological satisfaction of defeating its erstwhile big brother in the upper House but chose to oppose the Bill on grounds of “humanity” and stay away. Not exactly to the Congress’ liking but the Sena, too, cannot risk alienating the BJP or endanger its stability in the State. It is this Orwellian shadow that is casting a deep shadow on our institutions. So even if petitions are filed by the Congress in the Supreme Court against the CAB, one should not set a bar of expectations.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)