CAA Is Compromised: India Needs ‘Right To Return’ Law For Hindu, Sikh, Jain Minorities Anywhere

CAA Is Compromised: India Needs ‘Right To Return’ Law For Hindu, Sikh, Jain Minorities Anywhere

by R Jagannathan - Tuesday, December 29, 2020 01:37 PM IST
CAA Is  Compromised: India Needs ‘Right To Return’ Law For Hindu, Sikh, Jain Minorities AnywhereA Hindu refugee from Pakistan. 
  • The CAA is better than nothing, but it is a compromise that won’t stand the test of time. It is already running out of political fuel.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has got itself into a piquant situation over its own law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019, which was passed to fast-track citizenship for persecuted minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

While political unanimity exists for providing early citizenship to persecuted Hindu and Sikh migrants from the first two Islamist countries, the real problem is Bangladesh, where the BJP finds itself in a pickle over having to defend the CAA in Assam, where a substantial chunk of ethnic Assamese (not to speak of the rest of the North-East) are opposed to it, and yet tom-tom its support to the law in West Bengal, where it is largely only the Muslims who oppose it.

The BJP’s hold on power in Assam depends on underplaying its commitment to CAA, and its route to power in West Bengal depends on doing the exact opposite. It cannot do both things simultaneously since the two states go to the polls around the same time in April-May 2021.

The BJP’s dilemma was underlined by the discomfiture of the party’s Bongaon MP, Shantanu Thakur, who was elected to the Lok Sabha last year on the basis of promising the Matuas early implementation of the CAA.

The Matuas are a Hindu people who were driven out by the Islamists of former East Pakistan – a persecution that continued even after Bangladesh was born. Thakur is red-faced because the BJP is soft-pedalling the CAA before next year’s assembly elections in West Bengal, primarily because high-decibel backing for the law will compromise its chances of returning to power in Assam.

In the latter state, ethnic Assamese are keen to see all “illegal” migrants, or those who could not prove their ancestry as in 1971 (the cutoff year for the Assam Accord and implementation of the National Register of Citizens) declared as non-citizens.

The unvarnished truth is that while the Assamese Hindu is unwilling to accept Hindu Bengali refugees from Bangladesh as entitled to settle in the state, the Assamese Muslim is willing to understate his indigenous identity to accommodate his religious brethren from across the border.

Thus, the Muslim vote bank of the Assam United Democratic Front, led by Badruddin Ajmal, remains largely intact, but the Hindu vote base is threatened by a split as long as the indigenous Assamese Hindu does not see Bengali Hindus as essential to their own political relevance in the state.

The only politician who gets this is Assam’s dynamic Finance and Education Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who has said that if Assamese Hindus don’t see this reality and accommodate the Bangladeshi Hindu now residing in his state, Badruddin Ajmal will become the main power centre on the basis of his block Muslim vote.

The Congress will align with him, or vice-versa, to keep the BJP out. The 34 per cent Muslim vote in Assam will ensure that the Hindu majority is sidelined, as has been the case with Kerala.

In West Bengal, a consolidation of the Hindu vote, including those Hindus who crossed over from Bangladesh to flee persecution, is clearly possible, but only if it shows commitment to the CAA. If leaders like Thakur are disillusioned with the party’s commitment to the law, it can kiss goodbye to power in 2021. Or anytime in the future.

In short, the BJP cannot expect to win both Assam and West Bengal unless it chooses to redefine itself and show complete commitment to the CAA – or Hindu causes in general. Such an unambiguous commitment may cost it the assembly elections in Assam, but that is far from certain, given Sarma’s efforts to woo indigenous Assamese Muslims to his side even while taking on the illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh. The BJP cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds to stay relevant. It has to become a party that truly believes in safeguarding Hindu interests and this is key to the BJP’s future not only in West Bengal, but the rest of the country as well.

To be sure, the CAA itself is a messy political compromise and not the real answer to providing a safe haven for persecuted Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The CAA allows fast-tracking of citizenship only for those who entered India before 31 December 2014, which means that those fleeing persecution after that date will be left high and dry. That cannot be the answer to the protection of Hindu minorities in Bangladesh, where the Hindu demography has shrunk from 22 per cent of the population in 1950 to around 8-9 per cent now. In another 30 years, there will be no Hindu left in Bangladesh. He would either have moved to India illegally, or have been converted to Islam as he is unable to resist local pressure from Islamists.

The CAA is a compromise for it does not take the civilisational rights of people following Indic religions as its core argument. Instead, it restricts itself to helping persecuted minorities and that, too, only those who are already in India and nowhere to go.

As the only country which can talk and act on behalf of Indic civilisational minorities in other countries (which means Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and ethnic Indian Buddhists), what we need is a “right to return” law as enacted by the state of Israel for Jews.

A Wikipedia page says that at least 14 countries have “right to return” laws, including Armenia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain. We should study those laws and enact our own version as soon as politically possible.

Under Israeli law, “every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh”, that is as an immigrant. The right applies also to people married to Jews, or who have at least one Jewish grandparent.

India would, thus, not be in contravention of any international law if it also legislates such a “right to return” law for Indic religious minorities anywhere.

The reality is that no Hindu or Indic minority is safe in Muslim-majority countries in the neighbourhood, even if the government itself may be friendly to India (as is the case with Bangladesh and Afghanistan). Most of the atrocities and pressure to convert may not be exerted by the government in power, but by bigoted elements in Muslim society.

It is worth noting that even in Hindu-majority India, such pressures to convert exist in Muslim-majority areas like Kashmir, or northern Kerala, western Uttar Pradesh or parts of Bihar and West Bengal. The problem relates to a discrimination that is intrinsic to Islam, where non-believers are kafirs, and thus unworthy of equal rights.

A “right to return” law will not pass right now in India, but even the abolition of Article 370 and a uniform civil code have remained on the BJP manifesto for decades. The former was abolished only last year, and a uniform civil code may happen in stages. At some point, the BJP or some other Hindu party that sees the problem for what it is, will have the parliamentary majority to pass such a law.

A “right to return” law would be better than CAA to give comfort to Indic religious minorities anywhere, whether persecuted or not. As things stand, the CAA is better than nothing, but it is a compromise that won’t stand the test of time. It is already running out of political fuel.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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