The Jamia Millia student revolt against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has opened up political light for the opposition against the Narendra Modi government.
The opposition, particularly the Congress, Trinamool, Aam Aadmi Party and CPM have found a big opportunity with the student agitation spreading to new areas everyday. The fringe parties in Kerala called for a general strike against CAA today. Universities, with a sizeable presence of the student wings of these parties, particularly in the South, have responded to the Jamia - Aligarh - Jadavpur student's agitation with positive echo.
Opposition parties have jumped into the fray expecting a chance to corner the Modi government in a big way, which they have not been able to do so far on any other issue be it demonetization, GST, the Rafale fighter deal, Abrogation of Article 370, the intolerance debate, lynching over cow slaughter, Ram Janmabhoomi or any other issue. It is thus the CAA that has become the focal point of the move against the Modi government to tarnish its image. The reaction of opposition leaders and their open support to the student agitation has exposed their game well in advance as an attempt to spread unrest all over the county.
The student agitation on CAA in itself is an anachronism. For there is nothing in the Act that directly or indirectly concerns the student community. CAA is being painted as anti-Muslim, which perhaps could be the reason for the students from Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia to take the leadership of the agitation with the politically notorious JNU and Jadavpur Universities joining in. But this has also exposed the sectarian nature of the revolt. Now the issue is being sought to be diverted as atrocities of the police on Jamia students.
So far, the BJP is looking at this agitation with unconcealed glee. For the party knows that a provocative opposition response is bound to backfire and help the BJP consolidate its vote base. For instance, the agitation is triggered by the two universities which unfortunately have a communal image. And the issue they have argued is about hurting Muslim sentiment.
The contradiction in the opposition approach is so glaring. As the former Kerala DGP Dr Senkumar pointed out, in Assam, the agitation is to throw out all migrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan, whereas in Kerala, the strike calls for citizenship to all migrants coming to India. The agitation has also brought Home Minister Amit Shah to the centre stage of Indian politics, increasing his popularity, and sharpening the debate on the CAA. Any detailed debate will only help Amit Shah and the BJP. Firstly, the CAA concerns only immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It is not in any way discriminating to Muslims residing in India. As for Article 14, it applies only to citizens of India and not foreigners.
The plea that while citizenship will be given to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and Parsis, while omitting Muslims from the list, is sectarian in character is valid on the face of it. But as the fundamentalist Islamic nature of the three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) sinks into the national psyche, the instant sympathy for Muslim omission gets evaporated. Muslims coming to India are not arriving here because of religious persecution. Many believe that they are coming with some ulterior agenda. One could be economic betterment. The other, and more worrisome to many, is the demographic invasion of India with the motive of Islamisation of the country. Many in the BJP believe that Muslims are coming and procreating in a big way to make India an Islamic state like Pakistan or Bangladesh. That feeling, if it comes into public domain, will only help the BJP politically. Moreover, the reaction from Pakistan to CAA has been very similar to that of opposition parties in India.
Every country of late, particularly the US and European nations, have become very sensitive to migrations from other countries. The argument is both economic and religious. No country wants its nationality to be compromised in the name of admitting people of an alien culture. And countries are wary of sharing their limited economic resources with aliens from other countries. People see migration not only as a threat to their ethnicity but also to their job opportunities, housing and other economic activities.
The opposition got exposed on three counts. First, the Jamia agitation started on Sunday (i.e. December 2015). What were the students doing in the university on a holiday? It shows that the agitation was planned. The police video has shown that it is repeatedly asking students to keep peace and not attack public property and stop stone pelting. Secondly, how can an Act passed by the parliament be opposed, without valid reason, by students, when it has got nothing to do with youth concerns? The idea of the opposition seems to be to make Modi unpopular with the youth of India for whom he had emerged as an icon. Thirdly the police have a duty to protect public property and maintain law and order. If outsiders had infiltrated the student agitation, as the student leaders are claiming, and took shelter in the university premises, then the police can't be blamed for rounding them up. The plea that police entered classrooms and the library is not convincing as it was a Sunday and the university should have been closed.
The opposition, by trying to make the CAA the focal point of their anti-Modi campaign, is in a way making Modi and the Act more popular. Amit Shah has already emerged as the new messiah of Indian nationhood.
Criminal activities like attacking public property, burning down public transport, etc. on the very first day of the student agitation has dented the appeal of the student agitation. Blaming the police is one thing. But the leaders need to explain the core agenda behind the agitation, instead of making it blind hatred to the Modi-Amit Shah team.
(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)
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