- + Modi’s Citizenship Act pushes him forward in our Hot list this week.
- + Anti-Muslim sentiment of the Act has led to an uproar.
- + Ambiguous international laws allow for Modi’s policies.
What makes a politician a great leader? Narendra Modi claims that an active role in policymaking does. But in the past 5 years, Modi seems to have taken this role a little too seriously – if not in the way many Indians would have wanted. An example: the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The CAA states that “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December 2014 (…) shall not be treated as an illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act”.
With three criteria for differentiating between illegal and legal immigrants in India, the CAA has become extremely restrictive. The government will recognize people from these 6 communities as legal immigrants only if they declare that they have faced religious persecution in the three mentioned countries. The grounds that Modi is using for this act is that these six communities are minorities in the three neighbouring Muslim-majority countries and face discrimination to a large extent.
Now the Modi government has exacerbated the problem by expanding the National Register of Citizens (NRC) all across India. Modi is getting exactly what he wants and if this continues, he will be in our ‘Hot list’ for a while. This law requires citizens of India to prove their citizenship through the possession of specific documents. This is especially pertaining to those immigrants who have been granted Indian citizenship. So, although a person belonging to either of the 6 communities may not have the specified documents as per the NRC, she will still be protected under the CAA. This act, had it been more inclusive, would have been deemed very humanitarian. But due to its underlying anti-Muslim sentiment, the Modi government has faced backlash again.
What are the Indian citizens protesting about?
Essentially, there are two groups that are protesting in India. The initial protests started in Assam, a north-eastern state, against all immigrants regardless of their religion. For these protesters, preserving their culture and the nature of their demographics is very important. The other, larger group, is protesting against the anti-Muslim sentiment that has been inferred from this Act.
What about certain Muslim communities that face religious persecution as well?
Modi has managed to exclude these communities from the Act because they don’t meet all the criteria. Besides, Modi argued that a Muslim from a Muslim majority country is unlikely to be religiously persecuted and hence, doesn’t need asylum. Of course, theoretically, this makes sense. But he has also failed to recognise the above-mentioned communities that do face religious persecution in their own countries such as the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the Ahamadiyas and Razdas in Afghanistan and the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The government also does not make a distinction between sects within a religion that might be discriminated against; although Shia, Sunni, and Razdas are different sects, they all fall under the same religion of Islam and hence, will have to apply to Indian citizenship as any other migrant.
Can Modi discriminate against religions under the International Law for Refugees?
International Law states that a “refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning”. They can be persecuted for religious, political or other reasons as well. An official institution such as the government or the United Nations has to recognize them as refugees; otherwise, they are termed as asylum seekers and are not given the protection under international law.
This is a shortcoming of the international law which allows governments to recognise the refugees on a case by case basis. It is understood that not all asylum seekers get granted refugee status. But then ethically, is it correct to base the refugee status on specific religions? While recognizing one as a refugee does not guarantee citizenship under CAA, it is possible that the international community (especially the UN) could step in and recognize these people as refugees to grant them protection in India and prevent deportation or worse – detainment in camps.
What could be Modi’s motives for passing this Bill?
Looking at Modi’s actions, it can be argued that he is implementing such policies to secure future terms in office. Appeasing to his largest voter bank – the Hindu population – is key to his victory. Unfortunately, due to the growing Hindutva movement across the country, anti-Muslim sentiments and intolerance have also increased amongst the citizens.
This could also be an attempt to appease the 5 other communities in India and become a ‘Hot’ topic amongst them as well. It has been speculated that the plausible change in the demographics of some states, especially of these five communities, due to the CAA and NRC could benefit Modi and BJP in their future elections as well. Contrary to popular belief, the Act is not an invitation for more immigrants to come in. So Modi can only gain support from those people that fit the criteria for the Act.
How is Modi getting away with all this?
Considering the events of 2019, a lot has occurred to potentially disturb his power. An increasing number of people are protesting and standing up against his policies, calling them unconstitutional. But one of the – call it smart – things that Modi has done is to wait until he had a clear majority in the Parliament to pass all these laws. With no opposition in the Parliament, he can then state that these laws were passed by a democratic parliament and hence, to criticize the Bills is to undermine the democratic nature of the country.
Furthermore, his main point of contention is that these laws were mentioned in the mandate for his election campaign of 2019. This implies that if the citizens voted for BJP, they also support the ideas. Here two problems arise. One is that despite these actions, people still support him. And this is true, which is exactly what prevents him from falling off our hypothetical thermometer. The other, more alarming, aspect is that people don’t actually read the mandate or understand the implications of these laws. Modi is very calculating in that he never makes a clear anti-Muslim statement or law. But it is through the implementation of such laws that one has to determine the underlying intentions in these statements.
Modi has four more years remaining in his term. The question on everyone’s mind is: Will Modi continue to focus on policies based on religion? Or will he shift his focus on the impending economic crisis that India is about to face?