The government's citizenship law is "illegal, immoral and ill-timed", historian Ramachandra Guha said today, commenting that the nationwide protests embodied the spirit of the constitution.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is also "extremely illogical", said Ram Guha on NDTV's Left, Right and Centre, questioning its premise that minorities from Muslim-majority countries - Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan -- would get Indian citizenship and Muslims would be excluded from this.
"What about the Tamils in Sri Lanka," he wondered.
Arguing that the CAA is ill-timed, Mr Guha said: "There is an economic crisis, there's a downturn, there's joblessness, agrarian distress and environmental degradation. The government should roll back the move and acknowledge the protests."
The student protests, he said, were accumulated dissatisfaction with a government that does not recognize that in the 21st century knowledge, learning and science are the key to economic growth and "not all kinds of crazy lunatic ideas".
On whether the law stood the legal test, the eminent historian said even if the Supreme Court decided that it did, the protests should not stop.
"It introduces a religion-based test, never done in our country. Even with narrow legal interpretations it is unconstitutional...clearly immoral and clearly discriminatory," Mr Guha said.
Asked about the major faultlines in India today, he replied: "Deepening majoritarianism and demonizing of Indian Muslims; attacks on Dalits, women and tribals; institutional decay and a deepening environmental crisis (We are an environmental basket case)."
Mr Guha also took a dim view of the opposition's role in the protests, especially the Congress, as main opposition party. In this context, he explained his sharp critique of Rahul Gandhi as a rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"I have long believed that the Congress has to move towards another form of leadership. If you have to defeat Modi, (and I am on the side of those who want to defeat Modi), you have to understand the roots of his popularity and appeal and then choose someone," he said.
The historian clarified that his comments on Rahul Gandhi were not an affirmation of PM Modi but it was really "frustration" and exasperation.
"General elections have become presidential and come 2024, you will need one face to oppose Modi. That really cannot be Rahul Gandhi."