For Amit Shah, legislative success with CAA has to be quickly followed by even faster implementation.
Only this will prevent trouble-makers from using delays to scuttle the plan altogether.
Having invested a lot of political capital to get the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) passed in Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah should move forward quickly to make it work. While the North-East needs slightly different handling due to fears of being swamped by to-be-legalised Bangladeshi Hindu migrants, this is not the case elsewhere.
The CAA has gained some traction with the silent Hindu majority after violent protests were launched by Muslim organisations in West Bengal, not to speak of the students of Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University. In Delhi, Islamist slogans were raised by some protesters, scaring most ordinary Hindus.
Most Indians now know that the real trouble-makers are the Muslim organisations and the secular parties that depend on their minority vote base. When Muslim citizens are not being discriminated against, such violence strengthens the moral case for not allowing illegal Muslim migrants the same right to fast-track citizenship as persecuted Hindus from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But to win this war of ideas, Amit Shah must set CAA into motion on the ground.
First, the citizenship or residency rights of Pakistani Hindus, now languishing in camps in Delhi and Rajasthan, must be immediately recognised. Even those who have not entered before the cutoff date of 31 December 2014 should be given a change in designation from refugees to long-term residents until they formally become eligible for citizenship after six years of continuous stay. No political party can object to giving them citizenship, for there are few Muslim claimants from Pakistan anyway.
Some opposition states plan to oppose the implementation of CAA, but this should prompt many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) states to offer to implement it in their territories, both to cock a snook at the naysaying states, and to build their own dedicated vote bank among the new citizens.
Second, the norms for deciding who is a persecuted Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist or Christian must be made crystal clear. The simple way to do it would be to deem all Hindus (and the other minorities) as persecuted since they have already been declared second-class citizens in these three Islamic states. They should have no need to give additional proof of actual persecution to qualify. Persecutors do not need to harass 100 per cent of a group in order to drive them away; they can demonstrate violence and rape against a few, and the rest will take flight out of fear.
This is what happened in Kashmir in the late 1980s. The jihadis – in just a few months – actually persecuted, raped and killed only a few hundred people, but half a million Hindus then fled in fear, as mosques started blaring Islamist threats to life and limb. Just as 95 per cent of Kashmiri Hindus cannot prove direct persecution of their own kith and kin, those persecuted in our three neighbours should also not be asked to prove actual persecution to claim early citizenship.
Third, there is the question of defining who is a Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Christian from the persecuting nations. The big questions are: how does one prove one is a Hindu? What if one is born of mixed parentage? What if one is not a practising Hindu or an agnostic? Can a Muslim formally convert to Hinduism, get the benefit of citizenship, and then revert to his original faith, which cannot be prevented under Indian laws?
These are ticklish issues, and laws alone cannot handle all the definitional issues and prevent fraud. One way forward would be to administer a special oath and ask the new citizens to sign a declaration which indicates that if any of the statements they made are false, their citizenship can be revoked at a later date.
The oath and/or certification could run something like this.
I, Keshav Deb, am a Hindu by birth. I was born in Sylhet, and have been a Bangladeshi citizen. I was forced to leave due to religious discrimination, as Bangladesh is an Islamic country.
I hereby renounce my Bangladeshi citizenship and identity, and will follow the secular laws of India, and respect all the faiths of the country. I will treat India as my motherland.
I have been explained that if any information given in my application is later found to be false, my citizenship can be revoked.
If the government is smart, it should seek the informal help of Hindu social organisations working in Bengal and elsewhere to evaluate the genuineness of the claimed religion of the person seeking citizenship under CAA. Since new citizens will have to go through an intelligence screening, these organisations can be used to provide their inputs. While this input cannot be the deciding factor before grant of citizenship, it should provide a valuable background check to facilitate a decision.
Fourth, persecuted groups being given citizenship in Assam and Tripura should be offered financial support to shift elsewhere. In fact, BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka should be encouraged to make offers to host some of these new citizens. Bangladeshi Hindu settlements in and around Delhi will not only help them get jobs, but also support the local economies.
Fifth, the real challenge is to assuage the feelings of Assam. While moving some of the new citizens out of the state will be a visible gesture, the long-term solution is to offer constitutional guarantees where certain areas inside Assam are guaranteed more seats in the state assembly, and all non-Assamese are forced to become proficient in the language within a specific timespan. This way Assamese language and culture can be strengthened even if the new citizens are Bangladeshi Hindus.
Just as parliament seats for states are frozen by law despite their falling share in overall population, there is no reason why Upper Assam or Kokrajhar (the Bodo area) cannot be given a fixed number of assembly seats no matter what the share of the population in these areas. This way the Assamese need never fear a loss of political control despite the rise in the non-Assamese population.
For Amit Shah, legislative success with CAA has to be quickly followed by even faster implementation. Only this will prevent trouble-makers from using delays to scuttle the plan altogether.