It is unfortunate that both the Narendra Modi government and the Congress and its allies in Parliament who opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) are indulging in shrill rhetoric to justify their respective stands on the contentious legislation. The government ought to have prepared the Opposition before the CAA was hustled through Parliament. Instead, it rammed the Bill down the throat of parliamentarians, taking care to get some fence-sitting parties to support the legislation so that the Bill could go through. The Opposition parties that drummed up opposition to the Bill had only one motivation — to embarrass the government and to pander to their vote bank of Muslims. That the legislation would affect only overseas Muslims who may have come into India as refugees and not alter the fate of Indian Muslims did not cut much ice with the agitators, who were hell bent on the path they chose. That lumpen elements were pushed into creating an atmosphere of hostility was appalling indeed. Equally a matter of concern was the manner in which some State governments ruled by the dissenting parties decided to disregard or defy the legislation after it was passed by Parliament, striking at the root of federalism and compromising the integrity of the country in thought.
The Act is indeed now at the crossroads, requiring a speedy decision by the courts on where the defiance of the new law stands constitutionally. Are states like Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, among others, entitled to disregard a law duly passed by Parliament and signed by the President? Can the spirit of federalism be compromised so completely by states out to defy the Centre? In view of the importance of the acrimonious bone of contention can the judiciary not take up the issue on the highest priority, not treating the issue as a routine matter? These are questions begging for an answer. The stand taken by the UP government on seeking to recover the costs on the destruction and damage to public property from identified agitators may sound like a sound idea but should this not have been preceded by a warning that this would be the way the government would go about it? Is the way of identifying the culprits in the vandalism through camera shots foolproof?
While some Opposition parties have made it their business to oppose practically everything that the government comes up with, they must think of their credibility too which suffers when they go overboard. The Congress party and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal have in the past thrived on converting the refugees into vote banks, colluding with them in making them Indian citizens entitled to all benefits of citizens. The BJP on its part is striving through the new Act to remove any roadblocks to non-Muslim refugees, be they Hindus, Jains, Christians and Sikhs being accepted as citizens. That this would create a new vote bank which would benefit the BJP is well on the cards. There have also been reports that a large number of Muslim refugees are trudging their way back to Bangladesh from across the border, seeing opportunities shrinking for them on the Indian side and fearing violent or coercive action against them.
Amid all the escalation that has taken place, it is time now for the Treasury benches and the Opposition to work towards reconciliation. While a certain degree of tension between the two sides is inevitable, when it comes to national interest there has to be unity of purpose. Disregard of Central legislation is also not in the interests of true and effective federalism. In that context, Prime Minister Modi’s diatribe against the parties opposing the new citizenship law while addressing the Siddaganga Math in Tumkur, Karnataka, on Thursday needs to be pondered over. Holding the Opposition responsible for protests against the new citizenship law, Modi slammed the “Congress, its allies and the ecosystem they created” for “rising against the Indian Parliament” as also against the “Dalits, the downtrodden and the exploited who came to India from Pakistan and sought refuge.” He said the protests should be against Pakistan and it was the duty of Indians to help the persecuted who fled Pakistan in search of refuge. It would be in the fitness of things if the rhetoric could be toned down on both sides.