On 9 December 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Nodi’s pushed his Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) through Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Government, where an independent (non-coalition) majority is held by Nodi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This bill, which seeks to amend 1955 law to grant citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, and Parsis facing persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, appears to be an important step in supporting minority religions in the country, but misses a critical minority- Muslims. This is not an oversight, or unnecessary point of consideration, but rather a deliberate attempt to circumvent Indian policy that has consistently recognized itself as a secular state.
India’s independence in 1947, despite the India-Pakistan separation on the basis of religious and ethic differences, was declared as one for a secular nation. This was solidified further in 1976 with the Forty-second Amendment, making a change to the Constitution’s preamble and specifically describing India as a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”. The stated object and reason for this minute but impactful alteration was “to make the directive principles more comprehensive and give them precedence”, thereby solidifying the importance of India as a secular nation-state (“Forty-second Amendment” 1976).
Now, particularly after the 2014 election of Prime Minister Modi, whose divisive politics under the Hinduism- first ideology of BJP and populist rhetoric threaten to reverse the progress India has made under its secular clause. Leaving Muslims out of the Citizenship Bill was a tactic of the BJP to push their Hindu nationalist agenda. This is not the first attempt to pass the CAB. In July 2016, the bill to make religion a basis for citizenship was first drafted, and failed to gain enough traction to be voted upon in the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha (Kuchay 2019). Once again the bill will need to pass both Houses to become a law, which is not guaranteed as the Upper House is not held by a BJP majority.
In the view of many critics, this policy is an aspect of a greater plan to divide the country; Sanjay Jha, who is the spokesperson for the main opposition party, said CAB is “part of a deeper divisive BJP political strategy to polarise India”. This polarization is intended to provide a path to division of various ethnic groups, potentially making your religion a factor in gaining citizenship in India. Additionally, the BJP’s polarization efforts and policy steps
This polarization capitalizes upon division between Hindus and Muslims. While long standing, specifically in the context of Pakistan and India, the divide between Muslims, who form nearly fifteen percent of the population, has become more tension-ridden with the election of Prime Minster Modi. In my view, this strain of authoritarian populism is different than others commonly described under this term, such as Boris Johnson and Donald J. Trump. In both of these cases, authoritarian populism uses the threat of “outsiders” under the vail of identity politics. While identity politics can absolutely be pervasive, the vail utilized by authoritarian populists such as President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and PM Modi fall under ethic/religious grounds. These conflicts, some spanning back for more than a thousand years, cultivate and exploit similar fears of “the other”.
Moving forward, I wonder if the impact of identity politics versus ethnic politics will continue to diverge, or will authoritarian populism in a globalized society create an emergence of more similar platforms. While utilizing identity politics to attack those unable to respond is perilous and incredibly worrisome, I fear opening the Pandora’s Box surrounding ethic politics is an incredibly dangerous risk, especially in the nuclear world we live in today.
Al Jazeera. “India’s Lower House Passes Controversial Citizenship Bill.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 9 Dec. 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/india-table-controversial-citizenship-bill-parliament-191209041402071.html.
Apoorvanand. “The New Citizenship Bill and the Hinduisation of India.” Human Rights | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 12 Jan. 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/citizenship-bill-hinduisation-india-190110141421871.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_page&utm_campaign=read_more_links.
“Citizenship Amendment Bill: India’s New ‘Anti-Muslim’ Law Causes Uproar.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Dec. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50670393.
“Forty-Second Amendment.” National Portal of India, https://www.india.gov.in/my-government/constitution-india/amendments/constitution-india-forty-second-amendment-act-1976.
Kuchay, Bilal. “What You Should Know about India’s ‘Anti-Muslim’ Citizenship Bill.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 9 Dec. 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/india-anti-muslim-citizenship-bill-191209095557419.html.